UPPER TUMON, Guam — Father Duenas Memorial is accustomed to lopsided victories over Guam High. On Saturday, the Friars found themselves having to scratch out a victory over the Panthers in the Interscholastic Football League semifinals.
Torey Curtis and Anthony Blas each returned interceptions for fourth-quarter touchdowns, but Guam High’s late rally fell short, and the Panthers lost to the defending league champion 23-14 at John F. Kennedy High School’s Ramsey Field.
Curtis and Blas “pulled off some key plays and got everybody fired up,” said Guam High head coach Mark Franchino, whose team trailed 17-0 entering the final quarter before turning an expected blowout into a close contest.
The Friars, who’ve won at least a share of six IFL titles in seven years, blanked the Panthers three times and outscored them by an average of 42 points in their past five contests dating back to 2000.
This time, the Friars jumped to a 17-0 lead on James Paulino’s 21-yard first-quarter field goal and TD passes of 13 and 3 yards from Anthony Perez to Nate Baza in the second and third quarters.
“Our boys took forever to turn it on, then they started playing” in the game’s final five minutes, Franchino said.
Lightning struck twice for the Panthers, as Blas tipped Perez’s pass, caught it and ran it back 46 yards for a score. P.J. Guerrero’s two-point conversion run sliced the lead to 17-8.
Three plays later, Curtis stepped in front of Perez’s pass and returned it 62 yards for another score. A fumble on the two-point conversion try kept the score at 17-14.
Guam High fell on a fumble with just over a minute left. But Paulino intercepted Curtis’ pass and ran it back to the Guam High 4-yard line. Mike Cruz then scored for the Friars from 2 yards out as time expired.
The Friars had allowed just 14 points all season before Saturday. Guerrero led the Panthers with 36 yards on 11 carries and Curtis paced the defense with nine tackles. Theo Tom and Ed Poppe each added five tackles, with Tom getting a sack.
The Panthers (4-3-1) finish the season with the best record in the school’s seven-year history. It marked a dramatic turnaround from the past two years, when Guam High went a combined 3-13.
“I’m happy with what we did this year,” Franchino, in his first season at Guam High, said. “We have a tough group. We’ve been at it for six months. We worked them hard. That made a difference.”
The Friars, trying to finish unbeaten for the second straight year, move on to a rematch of the 2002 championship game against George Washington, a 21-6 winner over Simon Sanchez in Saturday’s other semifinal.
That battle is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Ramsey Field. The Friars won last year’s title game 24-6.
— Brett Maluwelmeng contributed to this report.