Anything Tim Salter terms the best he’s seen in nearly two decades must be special. The Upland High School football coach labeled Friday’s goal line stand the best he has seen in his 19 seasons at the school.
The Highlanders stopped Corona Santiago on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 38 seconds remaining in a 45-41 victory to keep the No. 2 team in the CIF-SS Inland Division undefeated.
For the 86 total points and more than 900 yards of offense between the two teams, Upland’s defense pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter despite Santiago running 23 plays to Upland’s 11. The Sharks (1-3) had a first-and goal from the 10-yard line, but were stuffed on a quarterback sneak on their final play of the game.
“The ball was literally on the 1-inch line and that kid is a great running quarterback and he couldn’t get the ball in,” Salter said. “I told them that holds up with the best goal line stand we’ve ever had.”
Santiago quarterback Michael Darr threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 157 yards and another score, but he came up a yard short of what he needed for the victory.
Upland quarterback Nate Romine countered with 120 yards on the ground and 234 on 15 of 28 passing with a pair of touchdowns to Anthony Romero. Romine led the Highlanders (5-0) to a 31-7 first-half lead, but Upland gave up 34 unanswered points and found itself trailing 41-31 with 5:59 left in the third quarter.
The Highlanders defense pushed Santiago back to its 3-yard line late in the third quarter to finally breathe life back into the team. Upland officially regained the momentum when they had to drive just 28 yards for a touchdown that cut the deficit to 41-38 with a minute left in the third quarter.
The Highlanders took back the lead when Alex Olivas stepped in front of a Darr pass and returned the interception to Santiago’s 21-yard line. On third down from the 7-yard line, Romero made a leaping catch for his second touchdown of the game to put Upland back in front, 45-41 with 9:41 to play.
“We were out of sync, but we found a way to get it done,” Salter said. “It’s tough when you’re playing a good team to find a way to get the momentum back, but we got it back.”
Upland raced out to a 17-0 lead aided by a pair of Santiago turnovers in its first six offensive plays.
Santiago showed its first sign of life with a 71-yard return on the ensuing kickoff to set up a touchdown, but Upland answered with another 80-yard touchdown drive for a 24-7 lead. A Santiago three-and-out set the stage for Upland to score its second touchdown in a span of one minute, 34 seconds to ballooned the lead to 31-7 with six minutes to play in the second quarter.
Santiago refused to go quietly, converting its second fourth down of the night on an 80-yard touchdown drive capped by Dorion Barnett winning a 24-yard jump ball in the end zone. The Sharks converted Upland’s first punt of the game into quarterback Michael Darr’s 5-yard touchdown run on fourth down with 22 seconds left in the half that cut the deficit to 31-20.
Santiago continued its onslaught in the second half, needing to go just four yards for a touchdown after an errant punt snap by Upland before gashing the Upland defense for 63 yards in two plays to take its first lead of the game at 34-31 with 8:04 left in the third quarter.
After forcing a third consecutive punt from Upland, Santiago scored in just four plays to give the Sharks 34 unanswered points and a 41-31 lead.