As the icewater from the Gatorade bucket hit Compton football coach Calvin Bryant, it looked like a scene from a movie.
How else to describe a scene of triumph for Compton, a team mourning the deaths of longtime athletic director Maxine Kemp and assistant coach Webster Peters? A team that has suffered injuries to more than a dozen starters this year, a team currently attending class and practicing football at a middle school while its campus is under construction?
“We needed this, we really needed this,” said Compton star Deon Johnson after his team’s impressive 26-14 victory over Lakewood.
Johnson rushed for a touchdown in the win, had an interception, and recovered two fumbles, including one for a score.
“I think everyone can see how good we can be when we have our whole team, when everyone is healthy,” he said. Johnson kneeled and pointed to the sky after his touchdowns as a tribute to Kemp and Peters.
Kemp worked at Compton High from 1969 until just recently, when she retired after a half century as a teacher, counselor, coach, and athletic director. “Mama Kemp,” as she was affectionately known to generations of Compton students and athletes, passed the AD baton to Bryant when he returned to coach the school’s football team.
Peters had been an assistant coach with Bryant for several years at different high schools, and was a well-liked mentor within the Compton football program. Kemp passed away due to natural causes last month while Peters passed unexpectedly after a heart attack earlier this week.
“We’ve all been very sad about it, coach Peters was really close with me,” said Johnson. “That’s why we were taking knees after we scored, for them.”
“We talked a lot this week just to let them know the magnitude of those people at Compton and what they’ve done for us in our program,” said Bryant.
The game initially looked like it might be a runaway for Lakewood, which is certainly what the standings suggested would be the case.
The Lancers raced out to a 7-0 lead less than 90 seconds in the game and looked set to cruise to a win, as QB Brayden Downen hit Zion Smith on a short inside screen on third and short. Smith broke two tackles, got a boost on a push in the back from one of his linemen, and exploded down the left sideline for a 71-yard touchdown.
Lakewood looked to be in control and on their way to a commanding 14-0 lead when Downen hit Elijah Slaughter and it looked like Slaughter made it down the sideline into the end zone. But after an officials’ conference, it was decided that he’d stepped out of bounds, and the ball was put on the Compton 10-yard line. Downen was intercepted in the end zone by Jeremiah Miller, who gave the ball back to Compton.
The Tarbabes proceeded to go on a classic Compton double-wing drive, marching the ball 80 yards for a score on a 12-play drive that took seven minutes, with RB Erick Barrios averaging 10 yards per carry. QB Aava Lilomaiava even hit Deon Johnson for a 13 yard conversion on 3rd and 13 in the Lakewood red zone, setting up Barrios’ eight-yard touchdown. Compton’s defense stood tall, as Johnson had an interception of Downen and a recovered fumble after the ball was punched out.
Johnson put Compton up 14-7 on a touchdown and a two-point conversion with four minutes left in the first half, sending the Tarbabes to the locker room up 14-7 on the Lancers, with a playoff berth hanging in the balance.
In the second half, Compton had another signature drive, this one spanning five minutes and 54 yards. Compton overcame a personal foul that gave them a 1st and 25, and a holding call on a touchdown run that brought it back and made it 4th and 16. Normally the Tarbabes’ double-wing rushing attack gets bogged down by long distance yardage situations–but in this case, Barrios hit for an 18 yard run to extend the drive, then scored a 13-yard touchdown to make it 20-7.
The Compton defense held Lakewood scoreless for over 44 minutes of game time, thanks in part to defensive lineman Kingston Moa, who had five sacks in the game. He was the one who knocked the ball out of Downen’s hands near the Lakewood end zone in the fourth quarter during a sack; Johnson fell on it to score the touchdown and make it 26-14. Lakewood would score on a connection between Downen and Slaughter late in the game, but Compton stayed out in front.
Barrios finished with 118 yards rushing and two scores, while Johnson had 69 yards on the ground, three takeaways on defense, and two touchdowns. Downen finished with 225 yards passing and two scores to lead Lakewood.
“With everything we’ve gone through, a win like this is really important,” said Barrios. “This was an important night for us.”
It was also Homecoming in Hub City, with the game played at Compton College while Compton High is under a total teardown and rebuild. There was a great crowd on hand, and the Compton band (and alumni band) were excellent.
“It was Homecoming, we have a lot of alumni coming back who played for me and had success, so it was great to get a win like this and show how hard we’ve been working,” said Bryant.
As significant as the victory was for Compton emotionally, it was as significant to the Moore League standings. With the top three teams in the league guaranteed playoff berths, Poly and Millikan have the top two spots all but sewn up. Lakewood could have clinched the third spot with a win–Compton winning complicates things enormously.
Presuming that Long Beach Poly beats Lakewood next week and that Compton defeats Cabrillo, the Lancers and Tarbabes would be in a three-way tie for third place at 3-3 in league play with Jordan, who will have the bye next week.
In the event of a three-team draw for the final playoff spot, the Moore League bylaws call for a randomized envelope draw to determine which team makes the postseason as the league’s third seed.
If Compton can get into the playoffs, likely in a very low division, their unique double wing offense and stars like Johnson and Barrios will make them hard to stop. Friday night’s ice bath for Bryant might have felt like a movie moment–but it might not be the last time the Compton team gets to celebrate a big win with their coach.