There are certain plays that can turn a game around or change a season. But rare is the play that defines a career.
Given what was at stake when Pacific Grove High’s Jake Speed made a leaping, one-handed catch of a fourth-down pass in the second-to-last game of the regular season against King City as the final minutes were ticking away quite likely was the stuff of legends.
“It was one of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen,” said his coach, Chris Morgan.
Said King City coach Mac Villanueva. “His body was stretched out as far as he could get. It was the best catch I’ve ever seen a high school player make in person.”
The startling catch not only kept the drive alive, but on a fourth-down play at the King City 26-yard-line moments later, Speed made another stunning catch at the 2-yard-line and went in for the score that gave Pacific Grove a 42-41 victory.
Had Speed missed any of those two fourth-down passes it was quite possible Pacific Grove would not have reached the Central Coast Sections playoffs. The Breakers drove on to the D-IV championship game before losing.
“I remember looking at our sideline as we were getting ready for the (first fourth-down) play, and one of our assistant coaches, Todd Buller, yelled something like, ‘If you think that you’re great, now is the time to prove yourself.”’
Speed had to improvise almost as soon as the ball was snapped to quarterback Luke Lowell.
“It was a broken play,” Speed said. “Then I ran a broken route. I was supposed to curl with him (Lowell). I was double covered. All I was thinking is that I didn’t want to lose. Luke threw the ball, then hit his head on the ground. When he looked up and found out I caught it he went nuts.”
A couple of plays later, Speed did it again.
In fact, Speed was in the middle of just about everything the Breakers did this season to become The Salinas Californian’s Monterey County Offensive Player of the Year.
“We had so much talent on our team,” said Speed, who overcame a broken ankle during the 2012 season that required surgery and put him on crutches for two months. “We had receivers like Forest Compton and Dylan Chesney, who were both underrated. They (defense) tried to focus on me, and those guys had some great games.”
But not as great and often as Speed.
Speed scored at least one touchdown in all 13 games the Breakers played this year. He scored two or more touchdowns in a game nine times, three or more six times and twice he scored six touchdowns in a game.
“My goal was to score at least two touchdowns in every game,” he said.
Speed scored 11 touchdowns in the Breakers’ three CCS playoff games, including six against rival Carmel in an electrifying semifinal game that ended a six-game losing streak to the Padres.
For the season Speed caught 50 passes for 1,048 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed 91 times for 779 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also returned a kick 95 yards and punt 60 yards for scores.
“It was an unbelievable season,” Speed said. “We came up short (in title game to Scared Heart Prep), but I can’t complain.”
Here is the rest of the All-County offensive squad;
Luke Lowell, Pacific Grove, senior, quarterback: Overcame a broken arm his sophomore year to throw for more than 1,800-yards in the 10-game 2013 regular season. Including the Breakers’ three playoff games he threw for 2,300 yards and 32 touchdowns. Of his 144 pass attempts in the regular season Lowell completed 99 (68 percent) and was intercepted only five times. Lowell’s 28 touchdown passes in the regular season tied him with three others for the fourth highest single-season total in Monterey County history. He was also the team’s starting safety.
Connor Marden, Carmel, junior, quarterback: He made this team last year after passing for 2,300 yards and 31 touchdowns(26 in the regular season) and rushing for more than 500 yards. He’s back this year after throwing for 2,200 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushing for 816 yards and 13 touchdowns while taking the Padres to their sixth straight MTAL title. Marden was named MTAL Back of the Year for the second time in a row.
Edric Gamble, Alvarez, junior, quarterback: We typically don’t have three quarterbacks on our All-County team, but Gamble proved to be more of a runner than a passer for the MBL Pacific Division champion Eagles. Oh yeah, he was also the league’s Most Valuable Player. A dual threat, Gamble rushed for 1,016 yards and 15 touchdowns and passed for 623 yards and eight touchdowns. He teamed with running back Cesar Ramirez to give Alvarez two 1,000-yard rushers in the same backfield – only the second time in 14 years such a thing has been done by a Monterey County team.
William Kehoe, Carmel, junior, receiver: He was the leading receiver on a diversified and deep offensive squad that that has been averaging nearly 50 points per game for the past five years. On a team with seven receivers that had 10 catches or more Kehoe, a first-team, all-league pick, led the group with 36 receptions for 731 yards and six touchdowns.
His best games of the year came against the best competition. In a season-opening showdown against Palma Kehoe had nine catches for 136 yards. In the “Shoe” game against Pacific Grove, he had 11 catches for 176 yards and one touchdown. And in a playoff win against Scotts Valley Kehoe had seven catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Ronnie Turner, Seaside, senior, receiver: A repeater to our All-County team the 6-5, 175-pounder can rightly stake his claim as one of the most productive receivers in county history. At times his height and hands made him virtually unstoppable. He capped his second year at Seaside with 43 catches for 768 yards and 10 touchdowns. During his two-year varsity career Turner had 80 catches for 1,412 yards – an average of more than 17 yards per grab — and 21 touchdowns during regular-season games. He was named MBL Gabilan Division Most Valuable Offensive Player this year.
David Dorr, N. Salinas, senior, receiver: The prime-time 5-10, 170-pound wideout for the Vikings was a perfect match for their no-huddle, spread offense . He led the county in catches for the second year in a row with 47 for 816 yards and seven touchdowns. According to statistics compiled by the Californian, that gave him exactly 100 catches for the past two years for more than 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Holden Smith, Carmel, senior, running back: Three years of varsity football, three 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Smith had one of the most productive running back careers of any in county history. He finished with 4,615 career rushing yards and a county-record 82 touchdowns. The touchdown mark easily beat the previous high of 68 set by Ian Hesse of Pacific Grove from 2005-2007. In the three 10-game regular seasons Smith ran for nearly 4,000 yards and scored 63 touchdowns. He also caught about two dozen passes – five for touchdowns.
Brandon Olivares, Palma, senior, running back: Talk about big things that come in a small package. That was the 5-9, 170-pound Olivares when it came to football. Few times in Palma’s long and illustrious history has one player been so depended on for the school’s offense. Olivares carried a Monterey County single-season record 313 times – 66 more than the second highest total ever recorded. And even though nearly every defense knew who was going to carry the load, Olivares still managed to set a school 10-game, regular-season rushing record of 1,656 yards – the second highest single-season total in county history. He also tallied 14 of Palma’s 20 touchdowns on the season.
“We had 85 weightlifting sessions and he didn’t miss any,” Palma coach Jeff Carnazzo said. “He gave us tremendous leadership and dependability.”
Ben Laycock, Palma, senior, lineman: At 6-3, 190 pounds Laycock was a coaches’ dream. “Simply put he didn’t make mistakes,” Carnazzo said. “He’s one of the best offensive lineman I’ve ever coached. He’d play to the echo of every whistle. He was relentless, and at 190 pounds he was almost always going against players who weighed more than he did.”
Zach Zender, Palma, senior, lineman: The 5-11, 210-pounder was another one of those Palma linemen responsible for blowing open the holes against a defense that usually knew exactly what was coming even before the snap.
“He was one of the emotional leaders of our team,” Carnazzo said. “He had a huge motor. It was constantly going. He was one of the few players for us that went both ways. He was making plays all over the field.”
Zach Brown, Pacific Grove, senior, lineman: The Breakers were one of the strongest double-threat teams in the county – they threw for more than 1,800 yards and 28 touchdowns and ran for about 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns – and someone had to make running lanes and provide the protection. The 5-11, 225-pound Brown did both, and this year became a two-time first-team all-league selection.
“He was a very punishing blocker – the leader of that group,” Breaker coach Chris Morgan said.
* Branden Pena, N. Salinas, senior, lineman: The 6-3, 245-pounder was not only the MBL Pacific Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2012, but he won the same honor again this year. For a team known for its passing attack, Pena didn’t allow a sack this year and only one last season.
“He’s the first lineman I’ve coached that I could teach everything to, including all the tiny nuances that you never get to in high school,” said his coach, Steve Zenk, a former lineman himself.
Pena played hurt the entire year. He tore a pectoral the third day of practice and later suffered a hyper-extended elbow.
What kept him going? He reportedly told Zenk, “My team needs me, coach.”