State No. 2 ranked De La Salle beats No. 4 Servite 47-24 on its home field on Saturday night. Until the game reached the middle of the third quarter, however, it was still anybody’s to win.
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As the Servite of Anaheim offense was seemingly on its way to a go-ahead touchdown on its first series of the second half against vaunted De La Salle of Concord, it was hard not to think about the possibilities if the Friars had won.
Might there be a 1-2-3 at the top of next week’s state rankings, for example, involving three teams from the same league with Servite joining Trinity League rivals St. John Bosco of Bellflower and Mater Dei of Santa Ana in those positions? And what about Folsom’s chances to perhaps get ranked ahead of De La Salle and end up as a more attractive choice as the Northern California team in the CIF Open Division state bowl game?
But about as long as it took to ponder those scenarios, Servite did not take the lead on a touchdown, then fell behind by 10 points and then fell even further behind after an interception. Eventually, in four straight possessions, De La Salle took a possible 21-20 deficit and turned it into a 47-17 lead and a 47-24 victory.
With the win, De La Salle improved to 5-0 and also won by a slightly larger margin than Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas did over the Friars from earlier in the season. And even though Servite’s last touchdown came in the closing minutes when the starters were done for the night, that still might not be enough to unseat St. John Bosco of Bellflower as the state’s No. 1 ranked team. St. John Bosco, which defeated De La Salle in last year’s CIF Open Division state bowl game, lost its first game on Friday 34-31 to Bishop Gorman in a matchup of USA Today’s top two teams.
“We just stopped making mistakes and we had to come out strong in the second half,” said De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh. “We just couldn’t do that against a team like that.”
Servite dropped to 3-2 but since its other loss was by 47-28 to Bishop Gorman, since the Friars won easily in their other games and since they clearly were in the game against De La Salle until just before the fourth quarter began, don’t expect much of a drop from No. 4 in next week’s state rankings.
“I thought all of our runners ran hard and had great games,” Alumbaugh added. “Anthony (Sweeney, the quarterback) also had a great game. He didn’t miss any of his reads.”
Sweeney did most of his handing off to junior halfback Antoine Custer, who had to sit out of last year’s game against St. John Bosco. Servite probably wished that was the situation once again on Saturday. Custer carried 24 times for 274 yards and scored on runs of 60, 3 and 49 yards.
Custer’s 60-yard score came on the first play after Servite had taken its only lead in the second quarter at 14-10 on a 47-yard pass from Travis Waller to Terrell Bynum. It ended up being a nine-second lead.
“That was just a dive, a play many of these kids have been running since their freshman year,” Alumbaugh said. “He just shot right through there. It was a huge play.”
Still, Servite had a golden opportunity to score a touchdown on that first series after trailing 20-14 at halftime. With Waller eating up significant chunks of yardage via the pass or run, he had the Friars at the De La Salle 10-yard line before the drive stalled. Instead of a 21-20 lead, though, Servite settled for a 22-yard field goal by Andrew Acosta and a 20-17 deficit.
Sensing that a 10-point lead was now very possible, De La Salle went with its running game and marched down the field and did exactly that. The team’s other junior starter in the backfield, Andrew Hernandez (12 carries, 97 yards), scored the touchdown on a 22-yard burst up the middle after Custer brought the ball down to the Servite 22 on a 16-yard run.
On Servite’s next series, Wallter took a chance on a deep ball down the sidelines to his left. De La Salle safety John Quinn, however, was the one who came down the catch.
The interception also took most of the steam out of the Friars’ sidelines. The Spartans again capitalized and upped their lead to 34-17 on a 34-yard run by Hernandez.
“It was such a tight game we just had to come out and dominate in the second half,” Hernandez said. “They were pretty good, better than Byrnes (South Carolina) and more physical than last year. For us, we just have to play it week-to-week and practice hard.”
Waller ended unofficially with 11 completions in 24 attempts for 161 yards and one TD. He also ran it 16 times for 82 yards even though he was sacked four times. The University of Oregon commit and Elite 11 quarterback standout probably could have had better numbers had not at least three of his passes been dropped.
De La Salle extended its lead to 47-17 in the fourth quarter on the 49-yard TD scamper by Custer. Servite’s final score came with two minutes left on a seven-yard run by Jackson Taylor.
Now that the Byrnes and Servite games are out of the way and the rest of the regular season plus playoffs will be against Northern California opponents, Alumbaugh was asked how hard it will be for the players not to start thinking ahead, especially given the fact that De La Salle has not lost to a team from north of Fresno since 1991.
“We just stick to the same approach,” he said. “We have a chance to have a special season but to do that we’ve got to get better every week. It doesn’t matter who we play and some of the teams we’ve got coming up in Northern California have given us trouble.”
Trouble that often is overcome in the blink of an eye.