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Late drive lifts Knights to victory over Huskies

MIDVALE — Friday night, in about the same amount of time it took you to retrieve this morning's paper from the bushes, Northridge moved the ball 80 yards, slipped through multiple tackles, equaled its touchdown production from the rest of the game, avoided overtime, escaped a possible major first-round upset and crushed Hillcrest's hearts.

Whew.

And if that weren't enough to accomplish in a dizzying final 32.4 seconds of a thrilling 27-14 victory — highlighted by three sweet touchdowns by Bryant Eteuati — the Knights also set up a whale of a 5A quarterfinal showdown with their favorite postseason nemesis, Skyline.

That was the only thing keeping Northridge (8-2) from breathing too big a sigh of relief after pulling off this nail-biter against the Huskies (4-7), who had home-field advantage but were considered big underdogs.

Quarterback T.J. Canales said his squad would have to perform "a hundred times better, better than we've ever played" to beat the second-ranked Eagles. He didn't hesitate adding, "Skyline's the best team in the state."

Canales threw for 296 yards with an airborne TD on 18-for-32 passing, but it was his fleet feet that clinched the game. After Zac Whitworth's second pick of the night set up Hillcrest's game-tying 1-yard touchdown run by Robert Takeno with 1:46 to go, Canales and his linemen took charge.

Coach Erik Thompson had put the reins on Canales, fearing an injury, but he surprised Hillcrest with four QB keepers in the Knights' late drive, which started on their own 38. The final run turned into a 28-yard Canales score, thanks to some shifty moves, clutch blocking and shoddy tackling.

When Hillcrest kept dropping guys back in the secondary to counter Northridge's potent passing attack, the first-year coach couldn't resist calling his QB's number.

"They were giving that to us, and that's what we felt we needed to do. That's what (Canales) was asking for, another chance to lead the team," Thompson said. "In the playoffs, you do what you need to win. We might run the wishbone next week."

Whatever offense they do run, count on Eteuati touching the ball a lot. The compact, 5-foot-8 speed demon ran the opening kickoff back 94 yards (his fourth kick return this year), turned on the afterburners for a 62-yard touchdown and captured a TD hat trick with a 50-yard interception return as the game and Hillcrest's season ended.

"This guy's awesome," Canales said. "He's the best player in the state."

Eteuati had another outstanding defensive play, when he decleated a Hillcrest runner and slammed him to the turf with a nasty pile-driver move. Overall, the Knights did an excellent job containing the Huskies' offense after having allowed 700-plus yards rushing in two consecutive losses.

It was a good thing, too, because the offense was so "sloppy," Canales said. "Our defense saved us."


E-mail: jody@desnews.com