Carpinteria takes No. 1 Oak Park down to the wire, 42-35

Carpinteria made a strong case for a CIF playoff at-large berth Friday night.

The Warriors gave Northwest Division top-ranked Oak Park a big scare in the Tri-Valley League football finale. They rallied from 34-14 deficit for a 35-34 lead in the fourth quarter only to see the Eagles’ dynamic passing combination of quarterback Chandler Whitbord and receiver Matt Byer hook up on a 32-yard scoring play for the winning touchdown in a 42-35 shootout at Carpinteria Valley Memorial Stadium.

Carpinteria now must wait for the CIF to decide if it will be one of the three at-large teams for next week’s playoffs. The Warriors finished the regular season at 7-3 and went 1-3 in the Tri-Valley League, arguably the toughest league in the division. Going into the last weekend, four of the five teams were ranked in the top 10, with Oak Park, Nordhoff and Bishop Diego holding down the 1 through 3 spots and Carpinteria in seventh.

The playoff pairings will be announced Sunday.

“I’m really proud of the comeback,” Carpinteria coach Ben Hallock said of 21 unanswered points scored by his team. “It woud have been nice in the first half to take advantage of some of the opportunities we had, maybe even put a little distance in there.”

The Warriors had a punt return for a touchdown called back and a couple of sacks derailed drives.

The Warriors took a 35-34 lead after executing a brilliant onsides kick. They got Oak Park to bite on switching its kick return team from the right side to the left. But the Eagles didn’t notice Bryson Frazer standing near the Carpinteria sideline. Ian Craddock kicked the ball into the open space and Frazer ran up field alone and recovered the kick after it traveled the necessary 10 yards.

Craddock hit Ruben Garcia on a 32-yard pass and Frazer bulled his way in from 1 yard for the touchdown. Craddock’s PAT barely made it over the cross bar, putting the Warriors up 35-34 with 2:29 left in the game.

That was more than enough time for Oak Park to respond. Whitbord hit Byer for the tying touchdown and then passed to him again on a 2-point conversion to put the Eagles ahead 42-35 with 1:24 left.

On Carpinteria’s first play after the kick off, Oak Park’s defense caved in on Craddock and forced a fumble, which it recovered.

The Eagles (9-1) ran out the clock to complete the TVL undefeated.

“I said from the beginning I didn’t think anybody in our league was going to go undefeated because we had so many good teams,” Hallock said. “We were within a whisker of that happening here.”

Down 34-14 after Byer ran around the left end for a 22-yard touchdown with 2:01 left in the third quarter, Carpinteria kept battling. Quarterback Ian Craddock led a 70-yard drive on the next possession and scored on a 1-yard run to start the rally.

Garcia intercepted Whitbord in the end zone to give the ball back to Carpinteria. The Warriors capitalized on the turnover, marching 80 yard for a score. Peter Ramos scored on a 1-yard run to make it 34-28 with 3:13 left in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors then pulled off their trick play on the onsides kick.

Carpinteria’s Frazer electrified the crowd with a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter. But the TD was nullified because of a block-in-the-back penalty.

The Warriors punted and Oak Park’s Brandon Coppel returned it 38 yards for a touchdown to get the Eagles on the board. Coppel caught a 2-point conversion pass from Whitbord for an 8-0 lead.

Carpinteria’s defense forced the Eagles to punt again and Frazer burned them with a 75-yard return for a touchdown after taking a handoff from Tim Jimenez. Craddock’s PAT made it 8-7.

After struggling early, Whitbord found his passing touch and hit Byer with a 46-yard touchdown strike to give the Eagles a 15-7 lead.

Carpinteria responded with a 69-yard drive. Frazer had a 23-yard run on the drive and Craddock hit Jorge Arroyo on a fourth-down pass for an 11-yard touchdown. Craddock’s PAT put the Warriors within one point, 15-14, at halftime.

Frazer intercepted Whitbord in the end zone to end a Oak Park threat.

Oak Park’s Coppel was the workhorse on the first possession of the second half. He ran 70 yards on four carries, setting up Whtibord for a 4-yard touchdown run. The Eagles missed the PAT, leaving them with a 21-14 lead.

They expanded it to 28-14, capitalizing on a fumbled pitchout by Carpinteria. On first down, Byer caught a 51-yard bomb from Whitbord for a touchdown and a 28-14 advantage.

Byer took a handoff and ran 22 yards for another TD, putting the Eagles ahead 34-14.

But Carpinteria wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Hopefully, that will convince the playoff selection committee that it belongs in the postseason.

“Hopefully, we’ll make it in the playoffs,” Hallock said. “This should give us some confidence, running in there after playing toe to toe with the best team in the league.”