FAIR OAKS — Del Campo won the game, but the night belonged to East Union’s Vinny Torrice.
With both sides rooting him on, the diminutive senior, who has Down syndrome, ended this Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff opener with a 27-yard touchdown jaunt, leaping into the end zone before getting mobbed from players, fans and coaches.
Torrice was lifted onto the shoulders of teammates, creating a raucous scene as the running clock ticked to zeroes.
Del Campo won decisively 49-13 Thursday, but in the end the gracious Cougars joined in celebration with their visitors. For 13th-seeded East Union (6-5), which hasn’t won a postseason game since 1992, the bitterness of defeat went away for a moment thanks to Torrice’s only — and unforgettable — carry of the season.
“Bummer we didn’t win, but I can’t think of a better way to end the game,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “I think that’s everybody’s highlight for tonight, that’s for sure.”
East Union had wanted for Torrice to own the spotlight at some point in the season but it never materialized. And with this being a playoff game on the road, the Lancers didn’t want to make any special requests.
They didn’t have to.
“We didn’t tell him anything about Vinny,” Herrera said. “Coach (Mike) Dimino and the boys asked about him and they just showed him so much respect. We didn’t ask for that, they made it happen.”
Torrice’s touchdown was set up by four straight first-down plays from quarterback Jack Weaver — three on the run and a 15-yard toss to Jake Harries. Then on first-and-10 from the 27, Del Campo called a timeout with 1:11 remaining.
East Union had no idea what was coming next. Excitement grew from the Lancers’ “Red Sea” cheering section as Torrice hopped off the sideline bench, strapped on his helmet and jumped into the arms of Harries before taking his place in the offense.
“Their defensive coordinator came up and said, ‘Get No. 15 onto the field,’” Weaver said. “We’ve been talking about doing it all year, so for them to let us do that on the final play of a playoff game is probably the coolest way for me to end my senior year.”
No. 4-seeded Del Campo (6-5) hosts No. 5 Merced in the second round next week following its dominant effort. The Cougars overwhelmed East Union with their size — they’re anchored by 6-foot, 325-pound nose guard Shavian Fiatoa-Melei and 6-5, 329 offensive guard Stephan Poe in the trenches — and big-play ability.
Running back Greg Cabral racked up 181 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. His back-breaking 60-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage in the second half pushed the Cougars’ lead to 28-7 and there was no slowing them down from there. Del Campo later scored 21 unanswered points in a 5-minute span in the fourth, taking advantage of two turnovers.
Quarterback Tyler Dimino made the most of his few passes, completing 4 of 5 for 146 yards and three scores.
Weaver (10 of 18, 113 yards, interception; 14 rushes, 73 yards) connected with Ruben Gallegos for a 39-yard catch-and-run for East Union’s only score. It capped an impressive 11-play drive in the middle of the opening quarter and tied it at 7-7.
The Lancers had two more long drives but came up empty-handed on both. Del Campo linebacker J.R. Faaliga sacked Weaver on the final play — the 14th of the series — of the first half, and in the third quarter East Union turned it over on downs at the Cougars 7. East Union again failed to score in the red zone early in the fourth.
“We were able to get on their side of the field and we couldn’t seal the deal,” Herrera said. “It’s frustrating how it went down, from both sides of the ball. It’s kind of the way the night went.”