The last time Arroyo High School’s Steven Rivera and San Gabriel’s Andy Guerrero were on the field at the same time, they put on a offensive display that won’t soon be forgotten.
It was Nov. 25, 2011 in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division playoffs. Rivera was trying to quarterback Arroyo to the semifinals and appeared on his way to doing just that, but Guerrero piloted his team to an improbable victory punctuated by a thrilling finish.
Just moments after Rivera had given Arroyo a 38-35 lead on a 56-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Duran with 1:40 left to play in the game, Guerrero connected with Joey Villalobos on a 21-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-7 with under a minute to play to give San Gabriel a 42-38 win.
The end-game heroics from both quarterbacks were just one big chapter in stellar seasons for each player. Guerrero went on to be named the Pasadena Star-News Player of the Year. Rivera earned the same honor for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
And on June 22, the two players will take the field for the final time in their high school careers as teammates on the West squad in the Hall of Fame All-Star Game at West Covina High.
“I just feel like it’s Bird and Magic over here,” Rivera said of being paired with Guerrero as the West’s quarterbacks. “We feel that we’re going to be able to turn things around (for the West). We don’t come out here to lose.”
Guerrero and Rivera combined to throw for 6,669 yards and 67 touchdowns last season.
In their epic showdown, Guerrero threw for 233 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 140 yards and two scores.
Rivera wasn’t too shabby, throwing for 214 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for two more.
Memories of their playoff game still burn bright even to this day. For Rivera, it was the final game in a career that saw him leave as the valley’s all-time leading passer in career yards and touchdowns.
For Guerrero, the game sent his team on to the semifinals where they rode the momentum and upset San Dimas to earn a shot at Monrovia in the championship game.
Although San Gabriel was no match for Monrovia, Guerrero’s amazing season earned him the honor of being named the top player in the area.
Just as they may do someday as old men, Guerrero and Rivera can easily reminisce about their playoff classic.
Guerrero’s game-winning pass was set up by a long kickoff return by Alex Villalobos, also a West All-Star. But the Matadors didn’t do much with the good field position Villalobos gave them and found themselves with fourth-and-7 from the Arroyo 21 with less than a minute to play. Guerrero used his legs to escape Arroyo’s rush and rolled to his right before firing a pass to the end zone where Joey Villalobos made the catch as Rivera and another Arroyo defender rocked him. Villalobos held on and it was bedlam from there.
“It was a big play,” Guerrero said. “It was fourth down and it was either we do or we die. If I didn’t get that play done, we would have been out of the playoffs and he would have moved on.”
Unfortunately for Rivera, he won’t be able to forget the play during preparations for the All-Star game because it’s one of the play calls in the West’s arsenal.
“When we ran the play in practice, it’s called `Gator,’ ” Guerrero said. “Alex Villalobos reminded him that this is the play we won on. “It was just laughs and good memories.”
As much as the San Gabriel loss stung, Rivera has turned it into a positive.
“They pulled it off, but I wouldn’t want to go out any other way because I knew we gave it all we had and they gave it all they had,” Rivera said.
“Game week, we knew it was going to be a battle. We said to ourselves that if we look at our team, it’s a duplicate of San Gabriel.
“We were not very athletic. We were just a bunch of 5-foot-10 Mexicans running around in helmets and shoulder pads.”
And that’s exactly what the West will be in several spots on June 22 against an East team that has dominated the series in recent years because of its combination of dominant line play and speedy defensive players.
To combat this, both Guerrero and Rivera may have to use their legs to buy time or turn broken plays into something big. Both quarterbacks said they’re willing to do just that no matter what the ramifications might be.
The game won’t be the last for either player. Rivera will play next season at Whittier College. Guerrero plans to play at East Los Angeles College.
Unlike their last time on a field together, when somebody had to win and somebody had to lose, both players are hoping to go out a winner this time around and give fans one last taste of two of the top signal callers in Valley history.
“With two good quarterbacks, it’s going to be a real good game,” Guerrero said. “I don’t know who exactly is playing on their team, but I know they’ve got some real good players. The West is always chosen to lose because the East has all the talent out there. But it’s going to be a real good game.”
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