LA CENTER — Connor Fulton swears he wasn’t the type to wait until noon on Christmas morning to wake his parents to open presents.
But Friday night, the La Center junior presented his teammates with the best gift of all
The fullback’s patience paid off on a 44-yard touchdown run with 2:08 to play, lifting the Wildcats to a 35-32 victory over Toledo in a key Trico 1A tilt at La Center Middle School.
Fulton took the handoff from Dylan King, then had to bide his time as the Indians rush swept past him.
Only Cody Meier didn’t fall for the fake, but once Fulton made him miss, it was smooth sailing all the way to the end zone.
“That’s the hardest play I run,” Fulton said. “The key is patience, and it’s really hard. But I knew we had it.”
There was little reason for optimism on the Wildcats sideline only 3 minutes earlier, with Toledo nursing a 12-point lead and grinding the clock into submission.
But after Gabe Bunker’s interception snuffed out Toledo’s last chance, the victory bell could ring and the Wildcats (8-0, 7-0) could look ahead to next week’s showdown at Woodland that will decide the league championship.
“That’s a big game next week,” said LC coach John Lambert. “It will be a whole lot of fun.”
Toledo looked to be on its way to victory after stopping La Center on downs at the Indians 9 with 6:17 to play.
But quarterback Lakota Rakoz, who had fumbled several first-half center exchanges, dropped another one to the wet turf, and Jacob Mendez recovered for the Wildcats at the 17.
Two plays later, Wyatt Aguirre rumbled for a 9-yard touchdown run, getting La Center to within 32-27 with 4:01 still to play.
“That gave us hope,” Lambert said. “Toledo had played so well to that point, but that made us think that we could still do this, that we could still come back in this game.”
La Center then tried an onside kick, which Max Hiller recovered at the Toledo 47. But a holding penalty looked to have the Wildcats stymied, and on fourth down, Lambert called for the draw play.
“We knew our backs were against the wall,” Fulton said. “I just had to trust my line, trust my quarterback, and I knew everything would work out.”
Toledo led 20-6 early in the second quarter, but La Center fought back to tie the game at 20 by halftime. Senior tailback Jared Huddleston scored three first-half TDs for the Wildcats and ran for 131 of his game-high 163 yards in the opening 24 minutes.
That was enough to overcome big nights from the Indians’ 1-2 running back duo of Meier (145 yards, 2 TDs) and Mack Gaul (116 yards, 1 TD).
“The last two years, Toledo had really taken it to us, almost embarrassed us,” Lambert said. “This is really sweet for the seniors to win this on Senior Night.”
Aguirre led the La Center defense with 10 tackles.
LA CENTER 35, TOLEDO 32
Toledo 14 6 12 0–32
La Center 6 14 0 15–35
Tol — Taylor Hicks 33 run (pass failed)
LC — Jared Huddleston 22 run (kick failed)
Tol — Cody Meier 1 run (Mack Gaul run)
Tol — Gaul 12 run (pass failed)
LC — Huddleston 8 run (Huddleston run)
LC — Huddleston 29 run (run failed)
Tol — Meier 3 run (run failed)
Tol — Lakota Rakoz 1 run (run failed)
LC — Wyatt Aguirre 9 run (Conner Wonderly kick)
LC — Conner Fulton 44 run (AJ Myers pass from Dylan King)
RUSHING — Toledo – Meier 28-145, Gaul 14-116, Hicks 4-35, Rakoz 5-1, Danny Aguilar 1-11, team 1-0. La Center – Huddleston 21-163, Fulton 9-69, Tyrone Kulla 7-13, Aguirre 7-54, team 1-0.
PASSING — Toledo – Rakoz 2-6-1-41. La Center – King 1-8-1-2, Aguirre 1-1-0-13.
RECEIVING — Toledo – Sam Holbrook 2-41. LC – Kulla 1-2, Myers 1-13.