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Grizzlies sneak past Broncos in Division II quarterfinals

SAN MARCOS – In their regular season meeting, only three points separated Mission Hills and Rancho Bernardo. Their postseason rematch in the Division II quarterfinals on Friday was even closer that that, with the Grizzlies prevailing 14-13.

“There was never a doubt in our mind that it was going to be a duplicate-type game,” said Mission Hills head coach Chris Hauser.

Trailing 13-7 midway through the fourth quarter, 3-seed Mission Hills (9-2) scored the go ahead touchdown on a fourth down pass play. Facing fourth and five from the Rancho Bernardo 21-yard line, Mission Hills quarterback Hunter Moore found receiver Aaron Salas for a scoring strike in the back of the endzone.

“The pre-snap read was there, so we were pleased that he stayed with it,” Hauser said. “[Moore] got great time up front and that allowed it just get where it needed to go. He threw a laser in there and bingo.”

Rancho Bernardo (9-3) took the ensuing drive into Mission Hills territory before the Grizzlies’ defensive line took over the line of scrimmage. From the 30-yard line, penalties and a pair of sacks moved the 6-seed Broncos backward into consecutive long yardage downs they couldn’t convert.

“We knew we had to get it done. We wanted it more and we knew if we got pressure on the quarterback we could determine the game on that last drive where it really counted the most. We were all motivated,” said Mission Hills defensive lineman Aaron Leauma.

After the turnover on downs, Mission Hills was able to run out the final 1:44 to seal the victory. The Grizzlies have now made the semifinals in four straight seasons.

“We basically looked at each other in the eye and told us, ‘Who wants it more?’ We told each other to dig deep, because we were going to come up with this win no matter what,” said Mission Hills defensive lineman Anthony Lira. “It’s too big of a season to let it end like this.”

Rancho Bernardo took the lead three plays into the game on a one-yard keeper by quarterback Devin Saunders. On the next drive Mission Hills answered, tying the score at seven on a 56-yard touchdown run by running back Adam Renteria.

Late in the second quarter Rancho Bernardo jumped back in front by six on a Tyler Gomogda six-yard scoring run. After keeping possession when an inadvertent whistle nullified a muffed punt, the Broncos couldn’t extend their lead, missing a 30-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half.

“We just didn’t finish a couple drives that normally we’d be finishing,” said Rancho Bernardo coach Brad Elrod. “That’s probably due to them, too.”

Both defenses stepped up after halftime, leading to a scoreless third quarter. Toward the end of the third, Mission Hills began its eventual game-winning drive from its own 8-yard-line.

“We watched a lot of film and our coaches told us it was going to be a tough one and we were going to have to fight it all the way to the end,” Leauma said. “They were on us all week telling us we better bring our game or the season could be over.”

The contest produced a quality rarely seen in the section quarterfinals. Both the Grizzlies and Broncos came into the night with legitimate title game hopes.

“We knew the level of the competition. Facing such a great team early on that shows how big Division II is,” Leauma said. “We just wanted to come out and play hard.”

Mission Hills advances to the Division II semifinals to play 2-seed Steele Canyon (9-2) on the road Thursday.

“We’re going to bring our ‘A’ game and we’re going to come hard and work,” Leauma said.

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