HEMET – Saving the best for last has become a theme for Hemet this season, and the Bulldogs will have a chance to see just how far that theme will go.
For the first time in 49 years, the Bulldogs advanced to a football semifinal Friday, shaking off another bad start to roll past Irvine, 38-17. The last time Hemet (8-4) had a chance to play for a spot in a football title game was three years before the current campus opened.
Hemet will travel to Peninsula of Rolling Hills Estates for a Division 11 semifinal next week.
The Bulldogs have been piling up big offensive numbers at the end of the season, averaging 41 points over the past three weeks after averaging 19 in the first 10 games. But it’s certainly not because of fast starts.
For the second straight week, Hemet opened with a turnover. In fact, this time it was two turnovers in the Bulldogs’ first seven plays, the second of which enabled Irvine (5-7) to grab an early lead. After that, however, Hemet’s offense was nearly unstoppable, scoring on four straight possessions not counting a kneeldown at the end of the first half.
Quarterback Nick Thornburg, who opened the night with an interception, later ran off a streak of 12 straight completions. He was 14 of 18 for 192 yards in the first half and finished 18 of 24 for 273 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for two scores.
He was far from the only star for Hemet.
Dawson Powers, a converted soccer player, again had the night’s flashiest plays. On a fake punt, he fired a 46-yard pass to Garrett Arnold and later hauled in a 61-yard scoring pass from Thornburg and scored on a short run.
“We’ve been working on it (the fake punt) for at least the last three weeks,” Powers said. “I thought I was punting when I went out there. When they called it, I got a little nervous, but then I just focused.”
Of the long touchdown catch, he said, “Nick threw a great ball. He just fired a dime.”
Kalin Whitfield also had a big night, rushing for 119 yards, including 107 in the second half. And Frankie Castillo had a 50-yard interception return for a score.
“We still haven’t played a complete game,” Coach Jason Thornburg said. “We shot ourselves in the foot early. But it’s probably the best we’ve done at responding.”
Irvine’s Marc Filia was 22 of 37 passing for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Jacob Sears caught eight passes for 79 yards.
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