Aidan Chiles nodded to himself walking from the sidelines, preparing for one final moment of heroism.
With his Downey Vikings down a point and two minutes left to play, the senior Oregon State commit went to work, the same take-charge attitude he’s carried all season. He fired out routes, inching his team up the field. He ducked, weaved, dumped a third-down pass for a first down. The stage was set, the end zone creeping near, a win over Chula Vista Mater Dei Catholic and the Vikings’ first CIF regional title in program history just a few yards and a field goal away.
And then, a pass went awry and a season was whisked away. Mater Dei’s DJ Overstreet picked off a Chiles pass and sealed a 22-21 win in the Division 2-AA CIF regional final.
Chiles tossed his helmet, slumping, looking at coach Jack Williams as he came off the field.
“Coach,” Williams recalled Chiles saying, “I need a hug. I’m going to cry. I lost it for us.”
But Williams tried to reassure him. He hadn’t. And the Vikings wouldn’t be near this position without him.
After a broken arm ended a promising junior season, Chiles threw for 36 touchdowns in one of the best performances by any prep quarterback in the nation. When the defense faltered and offense stalled in grind-it-out wins all season, there was Chiles, Williams said, jumping around like a kid on the sidelines and telling his teammates they’d make a play.
And through a quarter Friday night, he was cooking. First came a 40-yard pass to senior Bryant Carey for Downey’s first score of the game, then a 35-yard strike over the middle to Ian Hernandez at the start of the second quarter to push Downey’s lead to 21-0. The defense did its job, picking off two passes from dynamic Crusaders quarterback Dominic Nankil in the first quarter.
But everything went wrong.
As Downey’s offense stalled, Mater Dei Catholic settled in. Nankil scurried in the pocket and found receivers. A touchdown pass late in the second quarter and short run in the third brought the game to within a score at the start of the fourth quarter.
“I thought maybe we came out and instead of being us,” Williams said of the second half, “we maybe did some things that we tried not to lose the game.”
And just as Downey seemed poised to put away the win, Chiles moving them back down the field in the fourth quarter, the Crusaders picked off a pitch-back trick play thrown by a Downey receiver.
“That was me,” Williams said. “I thought we started getting some momentum … like, ‘Hey, let’s try this, and try to pop the bubble.’”
Moments later, Nankil rolled left and fired a bomb to receiver Rollin George for an 87-yard gain. Anthony McMillan finished the drive with his second score of the game. The Vikings’ energy evaporated, down 22-21 — and then fumbled on the subsequent kickoff.
Chiles’ final drive came up short. It was a bittersweet end to one of the most successful years in Downey program history — but its legacy as Southern Section Division 4 champions, Williams said, was already sealed.
“I’m sure guys will build off him,” Williams said of Chiles, “and what he brought to the program.”
Chiles hopes this is just the beginning.
“I hope they carry this legacy, man,” Chiles said. “I hope they win CIF every year. I just want to come out here and see other kids shine how we shined this year.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.