MODESTO — Modesto High quarterback Tiki Tonga received the news on his way to Johansen High's Dan Gonsalves Field on Friday.
His grandfather, Sefo Tonga, had died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, and Tonga dedicated Friday night's 42-20 victory over Enochs to him.
"This was for him, above," said Tonga, who received numerous hugs of support from teammates, coaches and fans after the victory. "He taught me so much."
The Panthers, now 4-3 this season and 2-1 in the Modesto Metro Conference, control their own fate in the race for the league title. They'll face Davis, 2-6 in conference, Beyer (3-0) and Johansen (0-8). The Beyer-Modesto game on Nov. 1, providing the Panthers take care of business this coming Friday, will be for the league championship.
"We're just thankful to be in that position," said Modesto head coach Richie Alkire. "That doesn't happen often when you drop your first league game."
At times this season, the Panthers have displayed a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona, though they seemed to clear that up in last week's all-out, 48-minute effort against Downey.
But after racing to a 28-6 halftime lead, it appeared as though they might squander their advantage.
Enochs quarterback Shawn Munoz, who scored the game's first touchdown on a 9-yard run, found receiver Brandon Williams for a 5-yard TD pass with 8:38 to play in the third quarter. Then, after Modesto turned the ball over on downs at its own 48, Munoz capped another TD drive with a 1-yard sneak.
Suddenly, it was 28-20 with more than 17 minutes of game remaining.
"I wasn't going to let that happen," said Tonga, who rushed for 116 yards and and a score, and passed for more than 200. "It was too big a game."
Tonga directed the Panthers on a 62-yard march that ate up more than 4 minutes Antonio Perez punched it in from the 3 and after a Lesean Collins interception, Tonga led the Panthers on a 70-yard march that was capped by a 19-yard TD pass to Will Gallo near the rear pylon.
That made the score 42-20 with just over 8 minutes left.
Any hope of an Enochs comeback were swallowed up by Caleb Sexson when he came through with a tip-drill interception Munoz's third pick of the game (Lovell Collins, who scored two first-half TDs, had the other).
Gallo also scored a TD in the first half when he scooped up a teammate's fumble at the 2 and waltzed in for the score.