By Jeremy Balan
It takes a whole lot to agitate Mark Huynh, but the normally-collected Galileo Academy head coach had a reason to be bothered after the Lions’ 18-14 road loss to Washington on Friday.
Down by four points with just under 3 minutes remaining, Galileo (1-5-1, 0-3) appeared to take the lead on a winding, 81-yard screen pass from junior quarterback Kyle Nelson to running back Ronzel Fox.
But a flag came down late near midfield and the referees negated the touchdown for a block-in-the-back penalty on Galileo.
The block in question was a big one, without a doubt. A Galileo receiver downfield cleaned out a Washington defender right in front of the Eagles’ sideline as Fox scampered by, but it was definitively from the side, not in the back.
“The team feels that we get a lot of these calls against us. When it goes the other way – especially when we watch film – it’s not called,” said Huynh, who stated the Lions have had around 15 touchdowns negated by penalties this season. “We just don’t catch those breaks. We just don’t.”
Washington head coach Taylan Plasch even admitted the play probably should have been a touchdown.
“To be honest, I thought it was a touchdown,” Plasch said. “It was a late call, and maybe it was a more of a shove than a block, but thank God. We needed something to help us out.”
As deflating as the penalty was, the Lions had several more opportunities to win.
The best chance was just two plays later, when Nelson arced a picture-perfect throw to wide receiver Todd Holland, who was streaking down the left sideline. Holland had the Washington defensive back beaten and appeared clear to score the go-ahead touchdown, but dropped the ball just 5 yards short of the end zone.
The Lions turned the ball over on downs on that drive, giving the Eagles (2-5, 2-2) possession on their own 42-yard line with 58 seconds remaining. Washington kneeled on three consecutive plays and after two Galileo timeouts and two delay-of-game penalties, faced a fourth-and-25 situation with 12 seconds remaining.
Missing starting long snapper Sung Park to an injury earlier in the game and without their backup due to academic ineligibility, the Eagles elected not to punt from their own 27-yard line and instead ran a running play well short of the first-down marker to give the Lions another golden opportunity.
“It was too close to the end zone and we’ve had snaps go over our head in the past,” Plasch said. “That was the last thing we wanted to happen. Thank God that decision didn’t kick us in the butt.”
Galileo got the ball back on the Washington 27-yard line with 7 seconds left and dialed up a jump ball on the next play.
Nelson lobbed a ball into the end zone near the Washington sideline, where 6-foot-1 tight end Issac Armstrong awaited. Washington junior cornerback Ricky Lee Johnson, likely a full 8 inches shorter than Armstrong, leapt up and broke up the play, but when the ball hit the turf, 1 second remained on the clock.
Huynh called the play that had been most effective all game for the Lions’ last-gasp effort.
Along with the negated score, Fox notched the first touchdown of the game on a 53-yard screen pass, in which he broke at least five tackles, and finished with 128 yards on six receptions. The junior struggled rushing (he still ran for a team-high 44 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, and had 14 tackles at linebacker), but was unstoppable in the open field on screen passes.
So the ball went to Fox again on a screen and again he found daylight. He broke one tackle and appeared to have room down the left sideline, but Washington senior defensive lineman Wilson Jiang made an open-field tackle 20 yards short of the end zone to end the game.
“We told the seniors that this would be their last game on this field and they picked it up,” Plasch said. “Wilson stepped up when we needed it the most.”
Galileo outgained Washington 242-181 in offensive yardage and the Eagles were largely ineffective on offense, except for two drives orchestrated by senior quarterback Simon Ma.
The first was a 55-yard scoring drive just before the end of the first half, in which Ma accounted for all of the yardage through the air on 5-of-6 passing, capped by a 15-yard strike to Johnson with 12 seconds left to give the Eagles a 10-7 halftime lead.
The second was a 13-play, 78-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ate up nearly 7 minutes of game time and set up the final controversial moments. Ma went 2-of-2 through the air for 47 yards on the game-winning drive and scored on a play-action bootleg scramble on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Ma also had to battle through the shouts from the stands, pleading with Plasch to replace him with sophomore backup Ramon Cutright-Son.
“He could hear what was going on in the crowd,” Plasch said. “I know Simon’s head gets a little shaken up and his stomach was turning, because he puts so much pressure on himself. If not for those [touchdown drives], we’re right back where we were last week.”
G: 5:20 – Ronzel Fox 53-yard pass from Kyle Nelson (Yanek Hakobyan kick)
W: 1:31 – Mondo Bayasqalon 35-yard field goal
W: 0:12 – Ricky Lee Johnson 15-yard pass from Simon Ma (Bayasqalon kick)
G: 6:16 – Fox 4-yard run (Hakobyan kick)
W: 3:41 – Ma 1-yard run (Thomas Flores pass from Ma on conversion)