It’s a dominant showing for state No. 1 St. John Bosco of Bellflower, which wins its second CIF Open Division state title in four years with 56-33 win over two-time defending champion De La Salle of Concord. The nature of the win also displays the wide gap between SoCal’s top three teams this season — the other two were Mater Dei and Corona Centennial — compared to any others in the state this season. Additional CIF state titles were won on Saturday at Sac State by San Clemente and Sierra Canyon.
Congratulations to all other CIF state champions crowned on Saturday night that didn’t play at Sac State: Paraclete (Lancaster), Oakdale, Campolindo (Moraga), Pleasant Valley (Chico), Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland), McClymonds (Oakland), Rancho Christian (Temecula) & St. Patrick/St. Vincent (Vallejo). We will have short recaps with MVP for each game posted on Monday.
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Although the De La Salle of Concord program has been mighty in recent seasons, including six CIF Open Division state titles in the last seven years, the Spartans came into Saturday night’s CIF Open Division state final at Sacramento State as decided underdogs by many facing St. John Bosco of Bellflower.
It’s not as if the Spartans (11-2, No. 4 in the state) were way below their usual standards with just a two-point loss to an undefeated Utah state champion and a 42-7 win in the NorCal regional final over Freedom of Oakley. It’s just that the Braves have shown, especially with their avenging win in the CIF Southern Section title game two weeks ago over Mater Dei of Santa Ana, that they raised their game to an even higher level.
Bosco’s 56-33 final margin of victory will not only leave the team No. 1 in the final state rankings, but also marked the most points that De La Salle has allowed in a game since former head coach Bob Ladouceur first arrived at the schools as a 24-year-old, rookie head coach in 1979.
Head coach Jason Negro’s program (13-2) also won its second CIF state title in four seasons, matching the feat of his 2013 squad that beat De La Salle 20-14. The major differences in those teams, of course, is that in 2013 the Braves finished 16-0 and topped a DLS team that was on a 40-game win streak and had won four straight state crowns.
“Anytime you can beat De La Salle it says a lot about our program,” Negro said. “I’m just really proud of the kids, my coaches and our whole entire program.
“They have a young group defensively. I don’t know if they have played as a whole collectively a team that’s as big as we are up front and as talented as we were on the perimeter. We thought we were going to have some advantages. I was just worried about the weather and if we were going to perform with the weather as cold as it was but we played pretty well.”
“That team is better than we are,” said De La Salle head coach Justin Alumbaugh, who lost for just the fourth time since taking over the legendary program in 2013. “Our margin for error was really small and we didn’t do the little things that we really needed to. We put the ball on the ground six times and lost three. We moved the ball well and I was happy about that but our defense was just out of position the whole time. You gotta tip your cap, those guys are really good and well-coached and that’s a tough combo and we didn’t play well enough tonight”
The Spartans stayed with the high-powered Braves in early stages of the game. They scored first on a 60-yard run by Kairee Robinson on the third play of the game and then tied the score at 14-14 later in the first quarter on a one-yard plunge by Robinson.
St. John Bosco, however, drove the field easily on its first series to match Robinson’s mad dash. Demetrius Flowers got that first TD on a 3-yard run and it only took a few seconds after that for Bosco to take the lead. That came after a botched trick play by the Spartans on the ensuing kickoff and then Terrance Beasley ran it in from six yards out.
The Braves then took the lead for good on their next series on a 10-yard TD pass from Re-al Mitchell to Washington-bound Terrell Bynum. After a three-and-out by the Spartans, Bosco made it 4-for-4 on its offensive possessions to start the game with a 72-yard drive. That one ended on a 6-yard run by Flowers.
In the second half, after the Spartans fell behind 42-17, they gained some life on a field goal by Jackson Walsh, an onside kick recovery and then a 43-yard TD pass from Abel Ordaz to standout sophomore tight end Isaiah Foskey.
With the score 42-27 with 34 seconds left in the third quarter, De La Salle continued to surge and partially blocked a punt that the Spartans recovered at the Bosco 29-yard line. They didn’t get close to cutting the score any further, though, as Travis Tuitasi recovered a fumble for the Braves on the next play. They then put the game on ice — appropriate considering the game time temperature was 35 degrees and there was frost forming by game’s end — on a 73-yard scoring drive, all on running plays. Flowers got that TD as well with 9:10 left in the game on a 3-yard run.
“That’s high school football,” Negro said. “It’s momentum swings and you are still dealing with a bunch of kids. We really needed a stop there and luckily we got the turnover which I think was the real back breaker in the game. They are such a great program and do such a great job I knew they weren’t going to just go away until we started finally running the ball in the fourth quarter like that.”
Mitchell and Beasley had the most notable outings among the Braves. Mitchell, a junior, hit on 18 of 20 passes for 191 yards and two TDs. He also rushed 12 times for 50 yards. Beasley racked up 151 yards on 24 carries with two TDs while his partner in crime, Flowers, had 92 yards on 16 carries and scored three times. Like Mitchell, Flowers also will be back next season.
“We are one of the best teams in the nation because we just did what we did,” Mitchell said. “Not just tonight but the last few weeks.”
Robinson, who emerged as De La Salle’s featured back in the first game, wrapped up a stellar junior season with 21 rushes for 210 yards and two TDs. Ordaz, who didn’t throw often this season, had 169 yards passing, completing 11 of 20.
De La Salle also was making its 11th straight appearance in the CIF state finals since the event was renewed in 2006 after there were no CIF state champs crowned since 1927. The Spartans fell to 7-4 in those games and have still won three more state titles than any other program.
San Clemente 22, Del Oro (Loomis) 17
USC-bound quarterback Jack Sears has gotten the bulk of the attention for the Tritons as a passer, but in this matchup it was fellow senior Brandon Reaves who was more in the spotlight and it was Sears making a rare play as a defensive back that helped San Clemente win its first state title.
With the Tritons (13-3, ranked No. 13 in the state) trailing 17-15 late in the game, Reaves took a punt return and ran it back for a 54-yard touchdown to give his team a 22-17 lead.
Del Oro, which was hoping to win a D1-A state title after knocking off Camarillo in last year’s D2-AA finale, still had plenty of time to re-take the lead. The Golden Eagles picked up two first downs, but faced a fourth-and-nine from their own 48. Head coach Casey Taylor decided against punting, but the fourth down play resulted in a sack of QB Stone Smartt by San Clemente’s Austin Moore.
After a 15-yard penalty, San Clemente still had 2:11 to kill off of the clock to get the win and almost did it, but after running past a first-down marker with 48 seconds left (and with Del Oro already having burned all of its timeouts) Sears was hit and fumbled into the end zone. He probably should have just fallen down. The Golden Eagles recovered and then had a last-gasp chance from 80 yards out.
The furthest Del Oro could get on that last drive, however, was the 27 and on the final play a desperation heave pass was intercepted by Sears, who was just inserted into the game.
“He’s in our prevent defense and he was back there last week as well (in similar situation),” said San Clemente head coach Jaime Ortiz. “We like to make sure we have our best 11 of the field.”
“It’s always great to make history,” Sears said.
At the beginning of the game, it looked like the best 11 were all on the Del Oro sidelines. The Golden Eagles scored on their first series on a 17-yard scamper by Dalton Gee. They also stopped San Clemente on its second possession, then rolled down the field on a 88-yard scoring driva. That one ended on a 2-yard TD run by Smartt.
Del Oro continued to have the momentum well into the second quarter. The Golden Eagles took a 17-0 lead on a 26-yard field goal by Conor Calvert with 3:50 remaining in the period and even got another stop of the Tritons. That’s when the momentum finally turned away from them when a punt was fumbled and recovered on the 10-yard line by San Clemente’s Moore.
The Tritons converted on that turnover with 1:05 left before halftime on a 12-yard TD pass from Sears to Chase Berman. Del Oro was then punting with less than 20 seconds remaining and suffered another costly mistake on a high snap that went into the end zone, resulting in a safety.
“We just got a little momentum there in the second quarter and my feeling all week is that they have five to six guys going both ways so that might help us,” Ortiz said. “We took their best punch and now it was time to get ours.”
San Clemente’s defense did a much better job shutting down Del Oro’s offense in the second half, although the Tritons weren’t doing much on offense, either. They finally got a chance after getting good field position on a drive early in the fourth quarter. A 25-yard pass from Sears to Keith Jones got them down to the 1-yard line and then with 6:48 left it was Reaves who bowled into the end zone.
Still trailing by 17-15, San Clemente needed a two-point conversion to tie and didn’t get it on an incomplete pass.
Del Oro then had to punt on its next possession, which set the stage for Reaves to come through with his game-winning punt return.
“We just had a mantra of us against the world,” said Ortiz when asked about the team’s long road from not even being a top four seed in the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs to a state title. “Heritage was the top seed and we went there, we had to go out to Murrieta Valley to play the second seed and then last week we had to play at Edison (Huntington Beach). This week, we drive eight hours to play a great Del Oro team. For our guys it became we’ll play anyplace, anywhere.”
Reaves’ big punt return also was significant since the game in general lacked much offense. He was the Tritons’ leading rusher with 14 carries for 66 yards while Gee led the Golden Eagles with 12 carries for 85 yards. Sears had a sub-par outing with only nine completions in 17 attempts for 95 yards. He also rushed for 55 yards. Smartt threw for 104 yards and ran for 35 for Del Oro.
“This wins means a lot for our program,” Reaves said. “We weren’t going to lose this game. We didn’t come all this way to lose this game so we came out in the second half and gave it all we had.”
Another of the game’s top performers was senior Camrion Davis of Del Oro. He was a standout last year in the team’s big win over Camarillo in the state final and came up with three defensive turnovers. He also rushed for 55 yards and caught one pass.
“It was a great year and I’m proud of our boys,” said Taylor, whose team fell to 13-3 and will drop from No. 21 in the State Top 25. “I wish we could have found a way to win tonight but it just didn’t happen.”
Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 42,
Serra (San Mateo) 40
Writeup by Paul Muyskens
In the third straight incredibly close, tough loss for a Northern California team at Sac State, Serra fell short in its first-ever trip to the state finals while the Trailblazers won their second title.
Senior running back Bobby Cole lifted the winners with 220 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
“I’m going to keep giving the ball to our horse and Bobby is one heck of a running back,” said Sierra Canyon head coach Jon Ellinghouse as they rode Cole early and then at the end to keep Serra’s offense off the field.
Cole made his impact on the second offensive play of the day as he took his first carry and broke free through the middle for an 80-yard touchdown. He scored on two of his first four carries and had 104 yards and two touchdowns as the Trailblazers jumped out to a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Serra would quickly respond as senior quarterback Leki Nunn got the Padres into the end zone on a 14-yard run as they went 63 yards in three plays in under a minute. Nunn followed that with two touchdown passes as he connected with Isiah Kendrick for a 37-yard touchdown and Chris Park for a 35-yard score.
Serra’s 20-0 run, however, did not give the Padres a very short-lived lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, sophomore J.J. Hernandez broke through a hole in the Serra return defensive alignment and outraced the kicker for a 95-yard touchdown and after the PAT Sierra Canyon was back on top 21-20.
“There was a lot of swings in that game and that is what happens when you play fantastic teams that are used to fighting themselves,” Ellinghouse said.
“Yeah, definitely after that TD they scored we had to capitalize,” said Hernandez. “I saw the hole and knew I had to do it for our seniors.”
“All things being equal, we had the same number of TDs as they did,” said Serra head coach Patrick Walsh. “The biggest play in the game was that kickoff return. Finally, we had crested and got a score, then we gave it up right away.”
For the second time on the afternoon, the Padres still came back to take the lead when Nunn led the Padres on a scoring drive on the opening series of the second half. He ended that drive by rushing it in from two yards out for their final lead of the day.
Nunn on the day also completed 18 of his 34 pass attempts for 331 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 109 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries.
“Just unbelievable,” said Walsh on his standout dual-threat signal caller. “He’s right up there with the best players I’ve ever coached. No, he doesn’t look like D.J. Williams or Matt Gutierrez or Kevin Simon (De La Salle players), but if you cut him open he’d be just the same.”
Unfortunately for the Padres, their defense then couldn’t get a stop when they needed it the most.
Just like they did after trailing the first time, the Trailblazers matched with a touchdown drive of their own. Senior QB Niko Harris, a starter last year but who was injured and out of action until just this week, hit Dylan Tait for a touchdown with the extra point giving them a 28-27 lead. Harris completed 12 of his 22 pass attempts for 201 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 23 yards.
Cole scored his third touchdown to cap a lengthy drive that expanded from the third quarter to the fourth quarter. His 11-yard touchdown run and the extra point upped the score to 35-27 with 8:15 remaining and still kept Serra in the position of having to get a TD and a two-point conversion to tie it.
On the next series, Nunn again found Kendrick for a touchdown but the attempted two point conversion to tie the game was incomplete when the wide receiver couldn’t keep his feet in bounds.
Serra was still down 35-33 at that point with 4:36 left and tried to use its timeouts in an effort to get the ball back. Cole and the Trailblazer offensive line, however, would have none of that. He scored on a 7-yard run just 1:31 later for a 42-33 lead.
The Padres still weren’t done yet. Without timeouts, they raced down the field and scored with 2:06 left on a 3-yard run by Nunn. Serra had no choice to try an onside kick, which Sierra Canyon easily recovered. The Trailblazers technically then ran out the clock, but with three seconds left Harris just ran backwards to kill the time and caused a lot of confusion when he tossed the ball in the air in celebration. No Serra player fell on the ball, but the Padres also were called for having too many players on the field. The end result was an untimed play for Sierra Canyon, which was a simple kneel down.
Sierra Canyon also ended a 15-0 season, although one of the wins was a forfeit. The Trailblazers haven’t been in the State Top 25 yet, but probably will get that high for the final rankings since Serra (9-5) had moved up to No. 24 last week.
“This wasn’t really even thought of,” said Cole after the game on going undefeated and winning a state championship. “We really didn’t expect to be here but we were and we made the most of it.”
“It is an incredible feeling,” said Ellinghouse. “Both times we’ve won state titles have been awesome but different. The first time we were in our infancy and this time we had to move up a bunch of divisions. Both great cases of accomplishment. This is a great group of kids and I am very proud of them.”