After rolling to a an CIF Southern Section Southeast Division first-round playoff win last week, the Burbank High football players and coaches figured they had earned a date with No. 2 Diamond Ranch in the next round.
But they were surprised to learn that Diamond Ranch, the champion of the Hacienda League, had suffered a 31-28 upset loss last Friday — at home — against Santa Fe, the No. 3 team from the Del Rio League.
“We were definitely shocked when we heard the news that Santa Fe had won,” Burbank Coach Hector Valencia said. “We were fully expecting to play Diamond Ranch in the next round. That was a very big upset.”
Not shocked by the result was Santa Fe and its head coach, Dave Pierson.
“Our guys weren’t surprised at all,” he said. “For us, we felt like we had a really good game plan and the guys executed what we wanted them to do. Our kids come to play every week, and sometimes things go our way and other times they haven’t gone our way this season. But I was really proud of our kids’ effort.”
The Bulldogs will take on those upstart Chiefs in a quarterfinal contest at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Downey High.
Burbank (9-2), which finished tied for second in the Pacific League and earned the league’s No. 2 seed, heads into the second round after playing well in its opener last week. The Bulldogs had no problem handling Mayfair to the tune of a 49-14 victory at Memorial Field.
Burbank has a history with Santa Fe over the past few years in the postseason. In the first round of the 2010 playoffs, the Bulldogs suffered a 28-14 loss on the road. In 2008, the Bulldogs defeated the host Chiefs, 20-14, in a quarterfinal contest, also on the road.
“Santa Fe seems to always be around in the playoffs,” Valencia said. “They have a good program and they usually have some good teams.”
The Bulldogs are in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009, when they fell to host California, 24-21. In that game, California scored the winning touchdown on a pass play with 26.4 seconds left.
A win Friday would put the Bulldogs into the semifinals against either La Serna (9-2) or Diamond Bar (7-4). La Serna is fresh from a first-round thumping of Burroughs, 55-7, and Diamond Bar defeated Downey, 63-29, in its opener.
With his team’s effort last week, and what he’s seen with Santa Fe, Valencia said he likes his team’s chances to earn a victory.
“We are playing really well right now,” Valencia said. “We aren’t looking to do anything different or change anything up for this game. We just want to execute what we have done so far and go in with what has worked for us this season.
“But the guys are very excited to be able to win like we did last week, and to be where we are this week. We look forward to the challenge.”
Burbank has been able to be successful this season due largely to a defense that allows less than 16 points a game and an offense that can pass and run the ball with equal efficiency.
Spearheading that offense is junior running back James Williams. Williams broke the school record for touchdowns in a season in the ninth game and now has 22 scores on the ground. Carrying the ball 139 times, Williams has gained 1,097 yards and averages more than 10 yards a carry. In addition, he has had 21 pass receptions for 475 yards and five touchdowns.
“We have seen the Williams kid on film and he’s just a good, talented running back,” Pierson said. “What he brings to the game for football is great. He is definitely going to be someone who we’re going to have to slow down if we hope to be successful.”
Junior quarterback Ryan Meredith has also been a solid offensive contributor for the Bulldogs, completing 102 of 184 passes for 1,853 yards, 26 touchdowns and just one interception. Meredith’s favorite target is senior Oharjee Brown, who has 42 catches for 748 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Santa Fe has a dual-threat player of its own in junior Christian Lara. The signal-caller runs out of the option and is not shy about carrying the ball when he has the chance. Along with completing 114 of his 214 passes for 1,804 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, Lara also leads the team in rushing with 84 carries for 439 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He is a guy who can do a lot of things for us,” Pierson said of Lara. “He’s a threat to run as well as pass, kind of a modern-day type quarterback now days. He is definitely our guy.”
Lara’s primary target is senior wide receiver Brandon Takata, who has 45 receptions for 997 yards and eight touchdowns.
“We have seen them on film and we know what they like to do,” Valencia said. “We will spend all this week preparing for them, but I think we’ll be ready.”