LA MIRADA Laguna Hills' football team showed the fight of a champion against La Mirada in the Southern Division semifinals Friday.
The third-seeded Hawks almost rallied from a two touchdown-deficit to fight another day, but the No. 2 Matadores slammed on the breaks in a dramatic overtime finish.
Defensive end Roland Lujan recovered a fumble just inside his 5-yard line on second-and-goal as La Mirada edged defending champion Laguna Hills, 27-24.
Laguna Hills (10-3) trailed 24-10 with just under three minutes left in the fourth period but scored two touchdowns to force overtime.
On the first possession of overtime, the Hawks' defense held La Mirada (12-1) to a 19-yard field goal by Julian Matta. Laguna Hills seemed to have the momentum as it needed only two plays to earn a first down at La Mirada's 9. But two plays later, the Hawks fumbled a handoff exchange to the running back and Lujan pounced on the ball to send La Mirada to the finals for the first time since 2001.
"We had lot of momentum and we just did not make the play at the end," Laguna Hills coach Bruce Ingalls said. "I give our kids a lot of credit for hanging in there and battling back.
"It was a very courageous effort."
La Mirada will play the winner of tonight's semifinal between No. 4 seed Norwalk (11-1) — the Suburban League runner to the Matadores — and top-seeded Garden Grove (12-0) in the finals Dec. 11.
Laguna Hills wide out Ryan Ur came up huge in the fourth quarter. After an interception by Michael Vandal with 6:52 left gave the Hawks a chance to rally, the junior capped a short 41-yard scoring drive with a 4-yard touchdown reception from junior quarterback Tim Belman with 2:48 left. Ur's score and the extra point by Matt Burke cut La Mirada's lead to 24-17.
Ur then recovered the ensuing onside kick at his 43. The Hawks drove for a 6-yard touchdown pass from Belman to tight end Mark Martindale in the back of the end zone with 37 seconds left in regulation. Burke tied the score and La Mirada ran out the clock to set the stage for overtime.
"Oh, my God — what a momentum change," said Lujan, who forced an interception in the fourth that led to a touchdown. "It was a good game."
Laguna Hills also scored in the final seconds of the first half to cut La Mirada's lead to 13-10. Ur capped a swift three-play, 64 yard drive in the final minute with a 30-yard touchdown reception from Belman with 14 seconds left.
The Hawks' defense and special teams combined for three big plays in the first half but Laguna Hills only turned them into a 27-yard field by Burke.
Matt Martindale — the brother of Mark — blocked a punt on La Mirada's opening possession but the Hawks turned the ball over on downs at the Matadores' 31.
Later in the first with La Mirada leading 7-0, defensive back Tevin Brock intercepted a pass the Matadores' 24, leading to the Burke's kick.
On the ensuing possession, Mark Martindale recovered a fumble at Laguna Hills' 37 but the Hawks drive ended when they failed to convert on fake punt from La Mirada' 38. The Matadores drove for a 23-yard touchdown run by J.T. Torres — his second — with 3:40 left in the half. La Mirada setup the play with a 25-yard gain on Max Gama's halfback pass to Aaryn Bouzos.