LINDEN – Linden coach Chris Herrera quickly counted out his 11 defensive players with the game on the line for the final 5.5 seconds against Le Grand’s last gasp play.
His attention to detail paid off as his well-prepared squad swarmed Le Grand’s star running back Tony Garcia on a screen pass just past midfield and the happy Lions celebrated after hanging on for a hard fought, come-from-behind 27-20 non-league victory over the LeGrand Bulldogs Friday night at Lion Stadium.
Lions quarterback Kaige Camper threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, a 10-yard dart to junior receiver Tyler Rathjen, with 27 seconds left as Linden’s offense rallied to give the Lions (2-2) their first lead of the contest when it counted.
Le Grand was powered by Garcia, who rushed 35 times for 265 yards and two touchdowns to give his team the early lead at 7-0 and 13-7 and the Bulldogs had momentum much of the evening but could not seal the victory.
“We knew (Garcia) was going to be great,” Herrera said. “We had our hands full with him and played him as good as we could, but our defense bent and didn’t break (at the end).”
The Bulldogs (1-2) defense bit Camper for three interceptions, two of which led directly to Le Grand scores, but it was a late fumbled by a harried Le Grand quarterback Ivan Perez that led to a fumble recovered by Linden junior defensive end Tyler Bickford with 3:17 remaining that sparked the winning drive capped by the 10-yard bullet to a diving Rathjen.
But Camper survived his “off” night where he completed 18 of 30 passes for 249 yards and the four scores as fellow senior Christian Sanders rushed 19 times for 69 yards and caught five passes for 31 yards.
Rathjen caught three previous touchdowns from Camper from 54, 17 and 65 yards out to tie the score each time against the feisty Bulldogs gave him 146 yards receiving in the win.
Rathjen’s third touchdown was set up by a crucial 30-yard reception by senior Paul Laurent and fellow receiver senior Jared Dimas had eight receptions for 46 yards to fuel the offense.
“Our team just would not give up,” Herrera added. “Our offense came back as our receivers and our running back help lead our team. (Rathjen) played great and we have some of the best receiving corps around.”
Le Grand added a five-yard run by junior Cesar Villegas for A 20-13 lead with 2:42 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs’ Perez, who had one of Camper’s interceptions, completed just 2 of 10 passes for nine yards, all in the first half as Le Grand relied on Garcia and fellow backs to carry the offensive load.