LAWNDALE — It’s been 30 years since the Hawthorne football team has played for a CIF Southern Section championship and Lynwood ensured the wait would continue at least one more season.
The Knights, meanwhile, find themselves looking to complete “unfinished business.”
Hawthorne’s offense was unable to finish off, as the Lynwood defense produced three second-half interceptions in a 19-8 win in a CIF-SS Division 14 semifinal playoff game at Leuzinger High School.
The Knights also collected four sacks and a safety en route to their second consecutive title game appearance. They avenged last season’s loss to Whittier Christian earlier in the quarterfinals.
Lynwood (9-4) will travel to Bell Gardens (8-5) either Friday or Saturday for the championship game.
“It means everything,” Knights defensive back Yohann Okanina, who had one of the three interceptions, said about getting another shot. “Last year we couldn’t get it so we’re back again.”
After being shut out in the opening half, Hawthorne (6-7) needed less than three full minutes to get on the board thanks to Adrian Reyes’ 60-yard kick return.
Five plays later, Cougars quarterback Obie Brown delivered a 29-yard touchdown pass to receiver Daniel Ibe. He then found Zameere Medina on a two-point conversion to pull ahead 8-6 with 9:41 left in the third quarter.
“We noticed their defense was playing up so we knew the wheel was going to be open,” Hawthorne coach Corey Thedford said.
Reyes also collected a first-half interception to lead the way for the Cougars.
That lead was short-lived as a run-heavy Knights drive on the next possession was capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run from running back DeAndre Palmer. A two-point conversion made it 14-8 late in the third.
“We ran to our left side which is more of our power side,” Lynwood co-head coach Levar Castillo said. “I just kept going until they decided to stop it.”
Hawthorne’s ensuing drive ended after just two plays, when Okanina returned his interception 22 yards to the Cougars’ 38-yard line.
The Knights capitalized on kicker Erick Villalobos’ 27-yard field goal to push the lead to 17-8 with 10:08 left in the fourth.
Brown’s struggles throwing continued, as Lynwood defensive backs Elijah Hayden and Luico Camacho each collected interceptions.
Midway through the fourth and still trailing 17-8, a brief trip to the red zone was knocked back with a tackle for loss and Brown was hit as he threw incomplete on fourth-and-18 from the Lynwood 27.
“We pride ourselves on the defense,” Knights co-head coach Andre Pryor said. “This is the best defense we’ve ever had in our tenure as head coaches. We told the kids all year that we’ll be back (in the title game). “We just have to stay focused and keep our eye on the prize and here we are.”
The teams struggled early offensively en route to a 6-0 Lynwood lead at the half.
The Cougars were knocked back out of the red zone and Brown tried to extend a play facing fourth-and-11, but he was forced out of bounds at the Lynwood 27 for a turnover on downs with 26 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Hawthorne had issues handling Lynwood’s defensive pressure, which had three sacks in the half.
The Cougars got their own big stop in the red zone when Reyes intercepted Knights quarterback Jordan Sewell with 4:37 left in the half.
The Cougars were unable to capitalize and then made a defensive gaffe after Lynwood got the ball back at the 1:47 mark.
The Knights were aided after an 11-yard catch from receiver Tekhi Green and a Cougars face mask penalty tacked on to move the ball to the Hawthorne 27.
Five plays later, Sewell looked to his left before scanning back to his right and finding receiver Jordan Levarette, who came back to the ball and hauled in an 8-yard touchdown with 6 seconds left. The snap on the PAT was botched.