If there was any doubt before, Grant High School football coach Mike Alberghini knows his talented team can bounce back from a knock-down punch.
The top-ranked Pacers beat No. 19 Burbank 40-22 Friday night in Del Paso Heights to win the Metro Conference championship, finish the regular season 10-0 and extend their victory streak to 24 games over two seasons.
But the score was misleading.
When Charlie Vue put the Pacers ahead 26-8 with 8:04 left to go in the third quarter with a 32-yard field goal - a huge lead for a team that had allowed two touchdowns total in its previous nine games - the Pacers appeared to have things locked up.
But this is Burbank (6-4, 5-1) and this is a rivalry game and the Titans can dish out the hits and make the big plays just like the Pacers.
With junior quarterback Tu'uta Inoke leading the way, the Titans scored two unanswered touchdowns to close within 26-22 with 5:29 to left.
You could feel the collective air go out of the Grant faithful - many wearing "Pacers for Life" shirts and jackets - so used to one-sided slaughters.
The momentum had clearly shifted and a fired up Titans team pinned Grant at their own 19 after the kickoff.
But a few plays later, from their own 30, the incomparable Devontae Butler, the Pacers' workhorse throughout the evening, broke off right tackle, scooted outside and ran along the sidelines for 53 yards to the Titans' 17.
Three plays later, quarterback Glenn Deary snuck over from a yard out for a 33-22 lead and 4:30 to play. Butler, who rushed for 293 yards on 34 carries, clinched it when he scored his fourth touchdown on an 18-yard run with 1:29 left. That came three plays after Robert Isaacs sacked Inoke for a nine-yard loss on fourth and desperation at the Titans' 30 yard-line.
"We put the ball in Devontae's hands and we blocked for him there," coach Mike Alberghini said of the back-breaking 53-yard run. "It was nice to see the kids bounce back. I thought for a minute there Burbank was going to break, but then they made a couple of plays and to the finish they played hard."
Added defensive coordinator Reggie Harris: "Sometimes we'll bend, but we're not going to break. That's embedded in the kids."
Grant had shut out seven opponents and allowed single touchdowns to Rosemont and McClatchy.
But Burbank's Inoke ran for two touchdowns, passed for another and led the Titans on scoring drives of 61, 74 and 68 yards. He also led the Titans on another long drive in the second quarter that ended when Isaacs intercepted his pass on Grant's one-yard line. That, however, resulted in a safety against the Pacers when Butler was tackled in the end zone for a one-yard loss.
Inoke finished with 73 yards rushing and 119 yards passing. In all Burbank, had 264 yards of total offense.
"They executed their plays well," Harris said of Burbank. "We missed a lot of tackles. Now we know we are in the battle form here on out. It was a big wake-up call."
Alberghini expected Burbank to score some points. But he didn't think they would control the ball as much as the did.
"We tackled poorly and that's just a sign of (the first stringers) not playing enough and not playing tough teams like Burbank," Alberghini said. "But I told the kids this is the fastest team we are going to play. And they do a hell of a job coaching."
It looked for awhile like Grant was on the way to the kind of 55-6 romp they put on Burbank in last season's Sac-Joaquin Section D-II championship game.
Grant opened the game by driving 65 yards in six plays to score on its first possession. Butler had all the yards - the Pacers also were assessed three five-yard penalties - including the one-yard touchdown run.
Junior linebacker Poka Lopa tackled Inoke in the end zone for a safety early in the second quarter, then the Pacers went ahead 16-0 a few minutes later on Butler's eight-yard scoring run.
Although Burbank closed to within 16-8 on a safety and Inoke's 40-yard touchdown run, the Pacers moved ahead 23-8 on Butler's seven-yard run. Butler helped set that up with a 53-yard kickoff return.
The reliable Vue then but Grant up by 18 points with his field goal. It came after a Grant procedure penalty nullified a nine-yard touchdown run by Butler.
The game, which started late because of a senior night celebration, also was penalty marred. Burbank had 13 penalties for 85 yards and Grant 15 for 105.
"Their key players made plays and our key players made plays," Alberghini said. "But I think it was frustrating for both sides because neither of us have had much competition in league, and it showed tonight, especially for us."
Burbank suffered a huge loss when section sack leader Victor Amerson was carted off with an injured left ankle five plays into the game. He had 16 sacks coming into the game.
Neither team will face each other again this season.
Under the section's new playoff format, Burbank will be in the D-I playoffs. Grant is going to be in D-II along with unbeatens St. Mary's of Stockton and Rocklin and other powerhouses, Folsom, Granite Bay and Del Oro.
But who the Pacers will play won't be known until Saturday night, when the brackets are released under the new playoff format.
Grant is ranked fourth in the USA Today's West Region rankings and No. 2 in the state behind Oaks Christian of Westlake Village in Cal-Hi Sports' state rankings.
Yet based on strength of schedule, Grant is third behind St. Mary's and Rocklin within the section because of the Metro's poor overall win-loss record.
Alberghini believes based on winning last year's CIF Open Division state bowl title and going 10-0 this season with a largely junior-dominated team should be enough to get Grant the top seed. Section officials can move teams two spots up or down "to correrct a serious injustice in the seeding."
"I'm confident this team can compete with anybody," Alberghini said. "If you told me at the start of the season that with these young kids we'd start 10-0, I'd be giddy. Now the greedy part comes in. We want more."