By Michael Bower
This one had it all: a packed stadium, a matchup between crosstown rivals, two energized student sections, a homecoming night and a nail-biting finish.
But it was only a perfect Friday evening for one team: Del Norte.
The Nighthawks survived an impressive rally in the final minutes by Rancho Bernardo to pull out a 21-19 victory, earning another year of bragging rights over their Poway Unified School District neighbors. But it wasn’t by much – two yards to be exact.
The Broncos (1-6) went 80 yards in 2-minutes, 18-seconds and pulled within two points of the Nighthawks, when David Arevalo powered into the end zone from 1-yard out with 26 seconds to play.
The two-point attempt was unsuccessful, though, as Tucker Reed’s pass into the end zone fell incomplete and the Nighthawks snagged their second straight win over the Broncos and first in school history on the Rancho Bernardo turf.
“There is nothing better than this,” said Del Norte cornerback Quenton Meeks, whose 17-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter put the Nighthawks up by eight with 2:44 to go. “This is a night I am going to remember for a long long time.”
Del Norte running back Marc Gallant proved to be a workhorse, rushing for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 18 carries. His 6-yard burst late in the third quarter put the Nighthawks (3-4) ahead for good at 14-13. But even he was a bit nervous there at the end.
“I was going nuts,” Gallant said about his reaction to the Broncos’ touchdown with 26 seconds left. “But I was still upbeat, because I knew they still had to get the two-point conversion.”
The second half and fourth quarters of games have not been kind to Rancho Bernardo this season. It was the third game the Broncos have lost by three points or less and another game that got away after they led at halftime. This one they led 13-6 at the break.
Still, Rancho Bernardo got strong performances from a handful of players. Linebackers Nick Vallez and Roger Mann led a superb defensive effort.
Running back Arevalo carried the offense, finishing with 134 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Quarterback Reed was calm and poised while leading his team on the final offensive scoring drive. He even threw a strike to Michael Searson (four catches, 72 yards) for 30 yards on fourth-and-10 to keep his team alive. Kicker Sam Fenalson drilled a 33-yard field goal and a 42-yard field goal. But in the end it wasn’t enough.
Del Norte’s defense gave up the late touchdown drive, but earlier in the fourth quarter forced a 37-yard field goal attempt that was no good and stopped the Broncos on fourth-and-6 from the Nighthawks’ 27. Then Meeks’ pick-six with 2:44 left proved to be the difference.
“I saw them in the formation on film a couple times and I remembered they ran a slant out of it so I was just thinking slant,” Meeks said. “Then the slant came and I just jumped it.”
The Nighthawks and Broncos will both turn their attention back to league play now. Del Norte is eyeing its first Valley League crown in school history.