Serra Football: Never Better

Isaiah Kendrick exhults after scoring TD for Serra of San Mateo in victory over Cajon of San Bernardino in CIF state finals. Photo: James K. Leash/SportStars.

The Word ‘Never’ Was Used A Lot Among The Serra Football Team In 2017 — A Team Never Short On Resilience Or Talent •

Story by CHACE BRYSON | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH

Note: To check out more SportStars Magazine coverage of this year’s CIF state football finals plus many more free features from other sports, CLICK HERE.

Patrick Walsh called his 2017 Serra High football team the Team of Never.

Partially because the many things the Padres of San Mateo accomplished this season never came easy.

And also, more importantly, many of those same things had never been accomplished by any of the Serra teams which came before the group.

That, of course, includes winning a CIF State Championship now.

“Everything we did, we did it the hard way,” Walsh said following his team’s 38-14 win over Cajon-San Bernardino in the 2-AA State Bowl Championship on Dec. 15 at Sacramento State. “We’ve never done this, we’ve never done that. … We’ve never won 13 games in a season, and now we’ve erased kind of the big dog. We’ve never won a state championship is now gone.

Isiah Kendrick scored four touchdowns in helping lead the Padres to their first CIF State Bowl win.

Of course that didn’t come all that easy either.

With a 14-0 first half lead gone after Cajon tied the game 14-14 with a 99-yard drive late in the third quarter, the Padres weren’t quite in a tailspin, but the engine was sputtering. That’s when junior Malakai Rango delivered the game-changing play by returning the ensuing kickoff 72 yards to the Cajon 2-yard line to set up David Coker’s go-ahead touchdown run. It was the first of 24 unanswered points to close out a 38-14 win for the program’s first state bowl title.

“You definitely felt the momentum shifted automatically to our side,” Serra running back Isiah Kendrick said of the return. “I’ll never forget that.”

Fans of Serra football won’t soon be forgetting Kendrick’s performance in the game, either.

The senior racked up 180 yards of total offense and scored four touchdowns on the night. He gave the Padres a 14-0 lead with the first two scores of the game, a 14-yard screen pass midway through the first quarter and a 2-yard run with 5:30 to go in the first half.

Meanwhile, the Serra defense was doing everything short of Jedi mind tricks on a Cajon offense that came into the game with video-game like numbers.

The Cowboys (14-2) came into the game averaging just shy of 49 points a game. One week earlier they defeated Rancho Verde-Moreno Valley 70-23 in the Southern regional game, scoring 50 in the first half. Quarterback Jayden Daniels entered the game having thrown for nearly 5,000 yards and 61 touchdown passes. His favorite target, 6-foot-8 receiver Darren Jones, had caught 92 balls for 1,962 yards and 27 touchdowns.

“They had some guys,” Serra defensive coordinator Chris Vassar said. “I’ve never seen high school football players like that. We literally almost had to completely change our defense. I’m just completely stunned right now.”

A Hail Mary throw to Jones on the last play of the half got Cajon on the board, but the Cowboys 99-yard scoring drive in the third quarter was the only possession in which they had any sustained offensive success.

Junior linebacker Edmond Lahlouh heads the other way after a first-half interception in the CIF 2-AA State Bowl.

“I’d call that a defensive masterpiece,” Walsh said. “A defensive masterpiece for the ages. Coach Chris Vasser is one of the most talented coaches in high school football. The kids believe in him. The kids performed. It was a great game plan.”

The championship victory healed the wounds of last season when the Padres lost the CIF 2-A State Bowl 42-40 to Sierra Canyon-Chatsworth on the same field. The 2017 win also was the first in CIF State Bowl victory in seven tries for the renown West Coast Athletic League. St. Francis-Mountain View would add a second one night later.

As far as Walsh was concerned though, this championship belonged solely to his Team of Never.

“It’s a historic league, but this is internal,” the 17-year coach of the Padres said. “I love the league and I love my colleagues, but this is something to be celebrated inside the walls of Serra High School right now. I said that last year when we lost, we’re not going to wear the banner of losing for the WCAL and or winning it.”  

After Coker put Serra ahead for good with 2:45 left in the third quarter, Kendrick would add sandwich touchdown runs of 1 and 5 yards around a 39-yard Damon Lewis field goal. Kendrick finished the night with 110 yards rushing on 26 carries and 70 yards receiving on four catches. Coker rushed for 140 yards on 13 touches.

“It was a crazy intense game,” said Kendrick, who had 180 yards of total offense, including 110 on the ground with three scores. “When it came down to it, our conditioning paid off and who was stronger out front paid off.”

Patrick Nunn made plays on both sides of the ball in the CIF State Bowl, which included his first ever work at cornerback.

Defensively, Serra’s stars included junior linebacker Edmond Lahlouh. He led the Padres with 14 tackles while adding 2.5 sacks and an interception (just Daniels’ fifth all season). Tevesi Vakalahi finished with 11 tackles and a fumble recovery that Serra would eventually capitalize on for the first score of the game.

And then there was Patrick Nunn, a senior who drew the assignment of guarding Jones. In his first game ever at cornerback.

“Oh my God. Patrick Nunn,” Walsh said. “First game ever playing corner against an NFL-potential wide receiver. Well, maybe we have an NFL-potential corner out there. It was unbelievable the effort he put into his trade. He’d never practiced corner.”

Jones caught nine passes in the championship, including the Hail Mary touchdown, but Nunn denied a handful of other big catches. One of those denials was on a fade route jump ball on fourth-and-goal midway through the second quarter.

“Phenomenal,” Kendrick said about Nunn, who also caught three passes for 33 yards on offense. “Coach threw him in there on Monday and he learned it like that. He’s an athlete.”

It was a move that just seemed to fit — with the Team of Never.

Chace Bryson is the managing editor of SportStars Magazine. He can be reached at

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  1. Fumble
    Posted December 26, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Congrats to Serra on great season but let’s keep perspective. Because of CCS playoff structure, a top bay are private school team beat a good mid tier public school from the Southern Section for state title. A good measure of a top private school in Bay Area would akin to playing/beating a team from the Trinity League (even bottom teams like Servite, Orange Luthern or JSerra who must be scratching their heads reading this).

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted December 26, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Yes, we ranked every Trinity League team ahead of Serra, but those teams all know what they’re getting into at the start of the season. And the bottom Trinity League teams pretty much beat up on the rest of Southern California too. We had to rank Serra behind them because of first-game loss to St. Mary’s. At the end of the season, though, and if Atonio Mafi was healthy and not hurt, I think Serra would be right there even and maybe better than a lot of those bottom Trinity League teams.

  2. Cherina Smith
    Posted September 13, 2019 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    Good job Luke, You create a non-profit for an ex-girlfriend you dipped on 2 hours before your 6 month anniversary date and you NEVER even gave her the time of day to even explain why. And to top it off, your mom unfriends her on Facebook a week later! And here you guys are trying to promote yourselves for a football scholarship, which didn’t seem to workout since I don’t see you bragging about it anymore on Instagram. And I guess since you didn’t get your football scholarship no need to continue with this BS nonprofit to prevent suicide, I mean really how do you forget about World Suicide Prevention Day??? All of those organizations who donated got scammed!

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