MONTEREY — A dropped touchdown pass.
A touchdown catch a few inches from being true.
A bobbled snap on a chip shot field goal attempt.
A failed trip into the 5-yard line.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” said Monte Vista Christian first-year head coach Jubenal Rodriguez.
The No. 7-seeded Mustangs hung tough through a handful of uncharacteristic mistakes, but could not hold off a late rally in their 15-10 loss to the No. 2-seeded Monterey Toreadores in the Central Coast Section Division V playoffs on Friday at Monterey Peninsula College.
“Football, especially in these tight games, comes down to small little details,” Rodriguez said. “We just couldn’t get it done.”
M.V.C. (5-6) held a one-point lead with a little less than three minutes left to play, but Monterey (10-1) stunned the Mustangs with Josh Elmore’s 40-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Hendrick Lusk in the closing minute of what was a seesaw battle in the final quarter.
“[Lusk], man, he’s an all star,” said Elmore, a junior. “I have to give him the ball at the end of the game… My boy beat the corner, I had to lead him into the end zone and I hit him. Thank God.”
M.V.C. had the ball with 42.8 seconds left, but senior safety Evans Charles hauled in Monterey’s fourth interception of the night to advance the 'Dores to next week’s semifinal round.
The champions of the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Cypress division will play the winner of No. 3 The King’s Academy and No. 6 Del Mar.
The Mustangs, runners-up in the PCAL-Mission, will have to wait until next season to suit up again.
“Obviously, this feeling sucks,” said M.V.C. junior quarterback Nate Renggli. “Everyone’s going to hit some obstacles in their life and I guess it’s (about) how we bounce back. I can’t wait for next year.”
Renggli completed 7-of-20 passes for 118 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
His 22-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Riley Moller put the Mustangs up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
M.V.C. had just 63 yards of offense during the first half, but went into the locker room up 7-2 following a Monterey safety.
The Mustangs never truly found their flow on offense against Monterey’s small but fast defensive front, but Renggli and Co. made enough plays down the stretch to give the team a chance to win.
They had the ball deep in Monterey territory three times in the second half, but only came away with points once.
Senior Nick Bautista kicked a go-ahead, 23-yard field goal with 2:41 left, but Elmore rallied the ‘Dores in just his second varsity start.
“I knew if I was with my boys, I would be comfortable,” Elmore said. “I knew it. I love my team.”
Elmore completed 7-of-12 passes for 78 yards, the game winning touchdown and an interception.
Monterey senior running back Tim Byrd crashed ahead 24 times for 114 yards.
The ‘Dores had 151 yards of offense in the first half, but penalties short-circuited most of their scoring opportunities over the first 24 minutes.
They took their first lead of the game, 9-7, on Javier Espinal-Perez’s 45-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
M.V.C. made a final push with Bautista’s late field goal, but Elmore sailed the game-winning touchdown pass over the head of the Mustangs’ defensive back and into Lusk’s mitts.
“I was hoping we’d get those three-and-outs, fourth downs and hold them hard, maybe get the ball back,” said Bautista, who hauled in an interception and also made a pair of catches for 34 yards on offense.
Bautista is one of 15 seniors the Mustangs will lose to graduation. Daniel Brierley and Scott Tinsley, whom combined for 80 yards rushing on Friday, also played their last game for M.V.C., which started the year 0-3 but bounced back to reach the playoffs by winning four of its last five games.
“The seniors are definitely a special group,” Rodriguez said. “They’re the type of senior class you want to build a program around.”