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Birmingham will try to shake off rust in a playoff showdown against San Fernando

Birmingham will try to shake off rust in a playoff showdown against San Fernando
Birmingham coach Jim Rose reviews video in preparation for Friday game against San Fernando. His team hasn't played since Oct. 19. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

For the Lake Balboa Birmingham High football team, it’s the third week of seemingly endless practices since last playing a game. The Patriots will have gone 21 consecutive days without playing until they face San Fernando on Friday night.

Coach Jim Rose was sitting at his desk in the P.E. office on Thursday afternoon looking bored while watching video of yet another play by the San Fernando offense.

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“I don’t think anybody has done this,” Rose said. “There’s nobody to consult with on this issue. I guess people will be consulting me. The strategy is to keep it as normal as you can.”

Birmingham (8-2) is set to play San Fernando (8-2) in the City Section Open Division playoffs at Pierce College after last playing Oct. 19. That’s because Woodland Hills Taft forfeited a league finale on Oct. 26 and Open Division teams had a bye last week.

“This is the perfect team for this happen to because nothing has been normal,” Rose said.

The Patriots have been adjusting to one challenge after another. Their home field has been unavailable since last year because a new field is under construction. They’ve played 17 of their last 18 games on the road. They lost their top running back to an injury after he ran 64 yards for a touchdown against Granada Hills. They were seeded No. 4 despite having a much stronger nonleague schedule than No. 2 Eagle Rock and thus were placed in the same bracket as No. 1-seeded Harbor City Narbonne.

Players are doing their best to deal with the strange disruption in their season.

“It affects us because we need to see what we need to do to improve,” defensive back Peter Barrientos said.

The big question is how quickly the Patriots’ offense will be able to regain their timing. Teams that play after byes usually struggle initially with penalties.

“Physically we’re OK,’’ Rose said. “Mentally is going to be the problem.”

That’s why practices this week will be critical to preparing for a San Fernando team that won the Division I title last season, relies on running the ball and has two of the City Section’s best players in Kyle Bryant and Nehemiah Thompson.

Birmingham has been playing in the Open Division and in Division I for years. San Fernando now wants to challenge the Patriots, making the game a competition for No. 1 in the San Fernando Valley. The Patriots and Tigers haven’t played since the 2001 season.

“It’s probably going to be the biggest game in the City and for best in the Valley,” lineman Mher Alikyan said.

It’s clear the Open Division playoffs will settle lots of debates.

How good is 10-0 Eagle Rock? Can Carson survive the first round without 12 players suspended for leaving the sideline against Narbonne? Is 10-0 Garfield ready to play much tougher teams in the playoffs? Can any team give Narbonne a close game? Can San Fernando advance without a passing attack?

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Birmingham players are hoping to experience more of this madness.

“They’re sick of practices but they want to win so they can practice more,” Rose said.

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