CARSON -- In what was billed as one of the most enticing and anticipated state championship games ever, the De La Salle High football team finally encountered a challenge it couldn't handle in the Open Division.
The Spartans lost 20-14 to big, skilled St. John Bosco-Bellflower at the StubHub Center on Saturday night, and their streak of four consecutive titles in the state's premier game came to a close.
"Our kids played hard, I don't have any doubt about that," said Justin Alumbaugh, who in his first year as De La Salle's head coach drew a Bosco team that will likely finish at the top of several national computer rankings. "We fought hard, we played hard. We just didn't play well."
The Spartans (14-1) never led and trailed 20-7 with less than seven minutes to play, but had a chance for a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.
Marquis Morris, the defending state champion in the 110-meter high hurdles, cut the deficit to six points when he caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Chris Williams with 6:27 left.
De La Salle's defense nearly came up with a fumble recovery on Bosco's ensuing drive, but settled for a punt.
The Spartans' comeback attempt ended, though, when Williams was intercepted by Gavin Windes on a screen attempt on fourth down. The Braves took over with 2:15 left and ran out the clock.
"That's such a proud program," Bosco coach Jason Negro said of De La Salle. "It felt like it was slipping away a little bit. We dug our heels in the dirt and got the pick on the tipped ball. That was a big stop."
Bosco, which went 16-0, ended De La Salle's streak of 68 straight wins against California teams dating to the 2008 Division I state title game.
"They really prepared for us and they knew our schemes," said De La Salle running back John Velasco. "We couldn't really block them or stop them. You have to give credit to them."
The major challenges that Bosco presented with its size and speed wasn't unexpected. The Braves drew comparisons from De La Salle's coaching staff to Long Beach Poly's superb 2001 team, which provided the Spartans one of their greatest tests during their national record 151-game winning streak.
But despite the biggest offensive line in De La Salle history, the Spartans couldn't generate enough offense to hang with a Bosco team loaded with Division I talent. Their powerful rushing attack was held to just 157 yards.
Though the Spartans' defense only allowed three points in the second half, they couldn't overcome a sloppy start and 17-7 halftime deficit.
They also didn't get past their own 17-yard line on either of their third quarter drives.
Josh Rosen tossed two first-half touchdown passes to UCLA-bound Jaleel Wadood as the Braves made the Spartans pay for their early mistakes — including an interception and two fumbles that the Spartans recovered but for big losses.
De La Salle also missed explosive sophomore running back Antoine Custer, who injured his ankle on the opening kickoff and didn't carry the ball once.
"We had a lot of things in the game plan designed specifically for him," Alumbaugh said. "We'd been putting it in for about a month. He's a dynamic talent ... But that's not the reason we lost."
Velasco finished with 93 rushing yards to finish his senior season with 2,090 yards. He also scored on a 10-yard run in the second quarter.
The premier game drew many of the 16,791 fans that attended the second day of the state championships.
Sacred Heart Prep can't recover from early deficit. PAGE 3