Serra of Gardena can’t stop state powerhouse Corona Centennial in the final game of a doubleheader played Saturday at Oceanside’s John Carroll Stadium. The state No. 2 Huskies roll to a 52-13 win over Serra and make a statement about its chances of once again playing for Pac-5 and CIF Open Division titles. The earlier game was closer, as Oaks Christian topped Cathedral Catholic 35-33 in a game that came down to the wire.
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There were plenty of storylines in the marquee matchup of the 2015 Honor Bowl between state No. 2 Corona Centennial and No. 6 Gardena Serra.
Serra wanted to avoid losing for the second consecutive year at the event played at John Carroll Stadium at Oceanside High School. The Cavs lost to Bellevue, Washington, 31-14, in last year’s Saturday showcase game.
Saturday night’s game was also a rematch of an epic 2014 CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division opening round playoff game Centennial won, 68-64, on its way to the coveted section title.
There was also the angle of how Serra’s offense would respond without starting quarterback Khalil Tate, who was ejected in last week’s win over Lakewood and was not able to play against the Huskies. In last season’s Centennial-Serra matchup, there were 15 lead changes, but in this one there were none, as the Huskies showed why they are one of the two early favorites (the other is St. John Bosco of Bellflower) to once again represent SoCal in the Open Division state title game with a 52-13 victory over the Cavs.
The outcome was never in doubt, as Centennial (2-0) led 35-0 at halftime and scored 49 unanswered points to begin the game. Centennial substituted liberally in the second half and the game was played with a running clock in the fourth quarter.
“We’re trying to get our best players on the field and Sammonte Bonner (a standout back in last year’s playoffs) has done a good job of being unselfish by switching out to wide receiver,” said Centennial coach Matt Logan, whose program is 1-4 all-time in CIF state title bowl games (with three of the losses versus current state No. 1 De La Salle of Concord). “Our offensive line has really jelled. They have shown a lot of improvement since our scrimmage and got better since last week.”
Javon McKinley, last year’s Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year, got the Huskies off on the right foot by taking the opening kickoff 83 yards down to the 1-yard line. By the time he caught his first reception of the game with 7:22 remaining in the third period, a 78-yard touchdown reception on a post, Logan had many of his offensive reserves in the game (including QB Tanner Mckee) and the score read 42-0.
In between McKinley’s long plays, most of the Centennial damage was done by Arizona-bound RB J.J. Taylor. Taylor scored on a one-yard plunge after McKinley’s long return and also hit pay dirt two other times. His 38-yard scamper gave Centennial a 21-0 lead with 9:18 remaining in the second quarter. He also scored on a second one-yard run with 3:25 remaining in the second quarter to make the score 28-0.
“That’s our game plan – to come out fast and then wear teams down,” said Taylor, who finished with 16 carries and 132 yards in one half night’s work. “We’re always trying to get our best players on the field and that helps a lot. Defenses can’t single out one player and that makes our offense more effective.”
Starting quarterback Anthony Catalano, another standout off last year’s CIFSS Pac-5 title-winning team, only played in the first half as well. He completed 9-of-20 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown. On the ground, he ran 11 times for 75 yards and another score, the latter a one-yarder that made the score 14-0 with 1:50 remaining in the first quarter.
Centennial out gained Serra (1-1) in total yardage, 479-326. According to Eric-Paul Johnson of the Riverside Press-Enterprise, only 168 of those 326 yards came against Centennial’s first string defense.
Serra got on the board on a 75-yard touchdown reception by senior wide receiver Brandon Burton with 12.2 seconds remaining in the third period to make the score 49-7. Serra’s other touchdown came on the final play of the game, a 28-yard reception TD by Diego Williams.
Burton’s touchdown came from junior Jalani Eason, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder who replaced Tate under center. Eason displayed speed and did an admirable job throwing the ball considering his inexperience, and impressed Logan with his effort. Eason finished 21-of-33 for 242 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The difference in the game, however, wasn’t quarterback play. It was the Huskies’ explosiveness on offense and its all-around defensive effort. “I was really pleased with our defense, it has been phenomenal,” Logan said.
Centennial next takes on Orange Lutheran, which is coming off an impressive win over Crespi of Encino on Friday. If the Huskies get by the Lancers, it’s not hard to envision a 10-0 regular season. Its final two non-league games are against Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks and Valencia.
As for state No. 1 De La Salle, the slate also includes Orange Lutheran on September 19 (one week after taking on Servite of Anaheim) plus there is still a matchup with No. 7 Long Beach Poly on October 16. Those games will give our rankings some good comparatives for potential playoff games down the road.
As for Centennial, Logan is trying to keep his star-studded and veteran group focused on one game at a time.
“I’m trying to keep our guys grounded, and to tell you the truth, it’s been tough, especially with the guys who have scholarships. Our players need to understand the only wins and ranking that matters is the one at the end.”
OAKS CHRISTIAN HOLDS ON FOR WIN
Oaks Christian extracted revenge and upped it record to 2-0 on the young season with a 35-33 victory over Cathedral Catholic of San Diego. In last year’s Honor Bowl, Cathedral Catholic defeated the Lions, 28-21.
Cathedral Catholic had trouble containing the Oaks Christian pass-catch combo of sophomore quarterback Matt Corral and senior wide receiver Michael Pittman.
Corral, who started for the Lions as a freshman, completed 19-of-24 passes for 423 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Pittman, who is bound for USC, caught two of Corral’s touchdown passes and finished with 12 receptions for 249 yards receiving.
Pittman was the difference in the game, but Cathedral Catholic made a valiant second-half comeback that fell just short when a pass by Dons’ quarterback Tate Haynes was just out of the reach of running back Hogan Irwin in the right corner of the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game with 23 seconds remaining. Fittingly, Pittman recovered the onside kick to ice the game for the Lions.
Corral got Oaks Christian (2-0) on the board first with a one-yard QB keeper with 6:45 remaining in the first quarter. Cathedral Catholic tied the game on a 4-yard touchdown run by junior Adam Eastwood with 2:37 remaining in the first quarter. After that, however, Oaks Christian dominated the Dons the rest of the first half as CIF San Diego Section schools went 0-2 at this year’s Honor Bowl.
“The goal is to always win, but this one was too close for comfort,” said Pittman, who scored the game-winner in Oak Christian’s season-opening 41-34 win over Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks. “We played against a good team and a win is a win, so we can’t be too upset.”
By the time Pittman scored on a 42-yard touchdown reception by out-leaping a Dons’ defensive back with 7:06 remaining in second quarter, it was 28-7 in favor of Oaks Christian.
It looked like Cathedral Catholic (0-2) would get back into the thick of things on its first drive of the second half, but Oaks Christian’s Cameron Townsend came up with a big sack on third down from the 11-yard line and Haynes had his pass batted down on fourth down. On the ensuing possession, Pittman set up his own 16-yard touchdown fade catch with a 50-yard reception to make it 35-7.
After Pittman’s second score is when Cathedral Catholic turned it around, scoring 26 unanswered points before the unsuccessful two-point conversion. Cathedral Catholic put itself in position to potentially tie the game when Irwin hit pay dirt from three yards out on a speed sweep on fourth and 1.
Cathedral Catholic’s running game and the overall play of Haynes got the Dons back in the game.
Eastwood finished with 26 carries for 130 yards rushing and two touchdowns. As a team, Cathedral Catholic gained 299 yards rushing, with 211 of those coming after halftime. Haynes finished 10-of-24 for 160 yards (2 TDs, 1 INT) and rushed for 71 yards on 19 carries. He also did a good job of keeping plays, and drives, alive by avoiding the pass rush or making a play after his initial target was not home.
“They surprised us, we weren’t expecting that,” Pittman said of Cathedral Catholic’s second half play. “Our goal is to win CIF in the Pac-5 playoffs. That’s what it’s all about.”