Buck Gardner wasn't wearing fatigues, and his Southern football team arrived at North County High in a bus, not a procession of tanks.
But make no mistake, Gardner was prepared for an aerial attack Friday night. And that's just what he got.
North County quarterback Johnny Ray threw for three touchdowns and junior Anthony Walker ran 62 yards for another. But in the end, the Knights felt fortunate to escape with a 26-22 victory over Southern.
The Bulldogs scored all of their points in a fourth quarter, which began with North County ahead, 20-0.
"We wanted to get a pass rush on them. Pressure the passer," Gardner said, explaining the best defense for the Knights' explosive run-and-shoot offense.
It was the entire North County team that would feel pressured, and not because of a pass rush.
"I'll tell you what -- Southern came to play in the fourth quarter," said Knights coach Chuck Markiewicz. "I saw a lack of conditioning on our part, and I'm a little concerned about that. It seemed like they wanted to win a little bit more."
Southern drove 46 yards in seven plays for its first touchdown, mainly behind the running of Clayton Pinkney, who gained 20 of his 57 yards during the series. The senior back scored from 4 yards out with 11 minutes, 33 seconds remaining, and Scott Songer ran for the 2-point conversion to leave the Bulldogs trailing, 20-8.
After North County's John Bilheimer missed a 22-yard field-goal attempt, Southern drove 80 yards for another score. Shawn Phipps (9-of-16, 149 yards) rolled to the right, found an opening and ran 8 yards for the touchdown.
Suddenly, the Bulldogs were within 6 points, 20-14, with 3:40 to play.
Walker then burst down the left sideline for his touchdown, but Southern answered with a Pinkney 11-yard scoring run with 31 seconds left. Pinkney also ran for the 2-point conversion.
The outcome wasn't decided until North County's Jeff Clayton recovered an onside kick and the hosts were able to run out the clock.
"I don't want to take anything away from Southern," Markiewicz said, "but that's probably one of the worst quarters of football I've ever had a team play for me."
The dramatic finish nearly overshadowed another fine effort by Ray, who entered the game as the metro area's leading passer.
Ray had 193 yards passing after one half, 297 for the game. He was 21-of-39 with three interceptions.
Nine of his passes were caught by speedy sophomore Damon Martin, who amassed 140 yards and one touchdown. Junior Troy Ross had five receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
The Knights, who totaled 405 yards, are 4-1 and winners of three straight.
The loss was Southern's second in five games. The 3-1 start was its finest since 1986.
The Knights' first touchdown came with 8:45 remaining in the first half, when Ray completed a pass over the middle to Ross, who turned the short toss into a 19-yard score. Bilheimer kicked the extra point, and North County led, 7-0.
The teams traded interceptions late in the first half, and North County marched 71 yards for another score with just 14 seconds left.
Ray was 5-of-6 on the drive, including four completions to Martin covering 64 yards. The last pass, for 2 yards, gave the hosts a 13-0 advantage.
Bilheimer then converted the extra point, and North County had a 14-point lead at halftime.
When Ross out-jumped Pinkney for a lob pass in the end zone late in the third quarter, the Knights appeared on their way to an easy victory.
"I'm disappointed with the score," Gardner said, "but I'm not displeased with the effort. When you come back and come back and keep coming back, it shows a lot of heart."