Joshua Linville teaches English and publication design at Encinal High School. Members of his class contributed to this report.
Brindley Boots Jets Back to Championship
As the ball sailed through the uprights, and the clock struck zero, the Encinal Jets had done something they hadn’t done in nine years — secured a place in the North Coast Section championship. Senior John Brindley’s 17-yard field goal gave No. 1 seed Encinal an enthralling 24-21 win over No. 4 seed De Anza High of Richmond last Friday night at Willie Stargell Field in Alameda.
“I just zoned everything out, took my steps and kicked the ball,” Brindley said. “I kicked it. I just waited, and then I didn’t know how to react after. I just ran around.”
Brindley has had a magic leg all season. He kicked a game-winning extra point earlier in the year to defeat rival San Leandro, 13-12, and booted a 29-yard field goal to vanquish O’Dowd by a score of 10-7, giving the Jets a league title.
The game started off with a bang, with senior David Romero-Reinholz finding junior Keirr Stewart for an 85-yard touchdown. Stewart turned a short out route into a huge gain, spinning around defenders and breaking five tackles before finding pay dirt.
“I see (Keirr) work every day,” said fellow receiver Teddy Oliver. “Dude got a lot of passion and it makes me happy to see him play the way he did. He made everybody else’s job easier. He played his (butt) off.”
Stewart finished with five catches for 155 yards, with two of those coming on Encinal’s crucial final drive.
Short touchdown runs from running backs Archie Cole and Isaiah Smith gave the Jets a 21-0 lead at halftime. Cole finished with 110 yards on the ground.
With Encinal’s defense firing on all cylinders, it appeared that the Jets would coast to the division final.
However, the Dons’ offense was averaging 42 points per game and wouldn’t go down without a fight. De Anza quarterback Darrion Davis displayed true moxie, rushing for 105 yards in the game and throwing two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, despite being sacked 11 times on the night.
“That quarterback is legit,” Encinal coach Keith Minor said of Davis. “Not just talking about a kid making plays like that, but to have the intestinal fortitude to keep competing when he keeps getting hit. Hats off to that young man.”
A 6-yard touchdown run by Durell Willis brought the score to 21-7 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter. Willis also had a key fumble recovery in the fourth quarter with the score at 21-14.
“Even though we didn’t come out with the win, we played our hearts out,” Willis said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t lay down.”
With the game knotted at 21, the Jets engineered an 11-play, 55- yard drive that brought them to the nine-yard line with five seconds remaining.
“As soon as the scoreboard hit 21-21, everybody was more pumped than when it was 21-0,” Oliver said. “Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. It was a dog fight, that’s what we like.”
After Brindley’s game-winning kick, Encinal students stormed the field in jubilation.
“It’s something we haven’t done in a long time,” team captain Jezaiah Naigulevu said. “The seniors haven’t been able to get past the second round in a while. It’s been like a curse.”
Prior to the win, the Jets had lost in the second round of the playoffs for three straight years.
“As a 17-year-old athlete you couldn’t ask for more,” Oliver said. “We are super motivated to be representing our city in the NCS Championship. The city of Alameda along with Encinal (wants) to be put on the map.”
The Jets will take on No. 2 seed Del Norte (11-1) of Crescent City, who comes off a 28-7 win over Moreau Catholic, on Saturday night in Hayward. The game will be Del Norte’s first NCS title game appearance. Encinal last won a title in 2008.