Don Bauder 3:30 p.m., Sept. 2
Game of the Week: Vista at Mission Hills
Grizzlies kick late field goal to upset top-ranked Panthers
SAN MARCOS – For Mission Hills kicker Gio Garcia, his first career field goal attempt will be hard to top. The junior’s 32-yard field goal with three minutes left lifted the Grizzlies to a 31-28 upset over No. 1 Vista on Friday night.
“Coach told me, ‘It might come down to you,’” Garcia said. “That was in my head the whole game and sure enough it came down to it. It couldn’t have ended better than that.”
Vista moved the ball to midfield after the kick, but facing fourth down with 2:04 left Christian Gallardi couldn’t connect with a double-covered Stefan McClure on a slant route. The Panthers got the ball back with 20 seconds left, but Mission Hills made the stop to preserve their program’s first win over a No. 1 ranked team.
“We came out and we were ready for this game,” said Mission Hills quarterback Hunter Moore. “Coach is talking about building a tradition here. Vista has a great tradition and we know that, and we wanted to build our own and I think we did tonight.”
Mission Hills (6-2, 3-0 Avocado East) spent a majority of the game playing catch up after Vista (7-1, 2-1) raced out to a 14-0 lead four minutes into the game. The Grizzlies used big plays to pull even, tying things up late in the first quarter on a 68-yard Moore quarterback draw.
“We knew going in we weren’t going to be able to stop them very much, so you know you just have to keep putting points on the board and stay motivated,” Moore said.
With Vista leading 28-21 in the third quarter, Panthers running back Shakeel Marshall took off on a run up the middle and appeared headed for the endzone. But after outrunning the Grizzlies’ defense, Marshall simply dropped the ball at the 16-yard line and Mission Hills recovered the loose ball.
“Turnovers lost the game for us. That’s the bottom line,” said Vista head coach Dan Williams. “We go down and we’re driving to make it 35-21, we fumble the ball and they drive it against us.”
Mission Hills took the ensuing drive 89 yards for a tying touchdown, a 15-yard scoring pass from Moore to receiver Aaron Salas on the first play of the fourth quarter. Moore finished the game completing 11-of-15 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown.
“The coaches put all their confidence in me, let me do my thing and I feel like when the coaches believe in me I can just do it all,” Moore said.
With five minutes left and the score still tied the Grizzlies punted to McClure, hoping not to surrender a big play. Instead it was Mission Hills that made the big play, jarring the ball loose from McClure and recovering it at the Panthers 15-yard line.
“As soon as we got the turnover there, we said field goal alert and got the long snapper and our field goal kicker going,” said Mission Hills head coach Chris Hauser. “We were going to be a little smart with the football and we were okay with the field goal attempt.”
For Mission Hills, the win is one of the biggest in the six-year history of their program. The Grizzlies also control their own destiny in league.
“We elevated ourselves to the challenge of No. 1 in the county,” Hauser said. “They’re a great football team. I’m proud of how we competed.”
The victory took on additional meaning for Hauser, who graduated from Vista and coached the Panthers in the early 2000s. Hauser said he didn’t let thoughts of his Panther past interfere during the week leading up to the game.
“I took a really low key approach this week,” Hauser said. “I wanted to bring a calmness about myself during practice week and I think our kids felt that and responded to it.”
The loss is Vista’s first since falling to Eastlake the last year’s Division I finals. The Panthers have been ranked No. 1 in the section since the second week of the season.
“This is good for us. This is very good for us,” Williams said. “It’s not going to make or break our season and we’re going to get better from this.”