Burbank football faces 'mirror image' La Serna in CIF semifinal

Burbank High football Coach Hector Valencia didn't have to go too far to pick the brain of someone who had first-hand knowledge of the Bulldogs' next opponent.

That opponent is La Serna, and Burbank will face the Lancers in a CIF Southern Section Southeast Division semifinal game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at California High in Whittier.

In the opening game of the playoffs, cross-town rival Burroughs absorbed the brunt of La Serna's potent offensive attack, with the Indians coming out on the losing end of a 55-7 result.

"The thing about La Serna is they're not very big, and when you watch them on film they kind of put you to sleep because they are so methodical and they are so good at what they do," Burroughs Coach Keith Knoop said. "They are incredibly well-coached, their kids don't make many mistakes and what's killer about them is that they play snap to whistle every single play. Nobody takes a play off.

"When you play them, they do what they do so well they kind of sneak up on you. You make a mistake and they take full advantage and the next thing you know you're already behind. For us, we were down, 48-0, and it was like it happened so fast."

Valencia has been in contact with Knoop, who has provided the Burbank coach with game film and other information about the Lancers.

"He has helped us out a great deal," Valencia said. "We have a good relationship and he's a good guy in that respect. We just want to gather as much information as possible."

Burbank (10-2) enters the game after making an impressive run through the first two rounds of the playoffs after tying for second place in the Pacific League and earning a No. 2 seed from the league for the postseason. The Bulldogs opened the playoffs Nov. 15 with a 49-14 win at home against Mayfair and followed that up with a 42-0 win last week against Santa Fe.

"I think the last three weeks Burbank has really been on a roll," said La Serna Coach Margarito Beltran, referring to the Bulldogs' win against Burroughs in the regular-season finale and its two playoff victories. "During those three games they have definitely stepped up and they have been playing well."

Valencia said the Burbank program has been to the CIF semifinals previously, but it has been more than 80 years since the Bulldogs were in the final four.

"I think it was something like 1927," Valencia said. "We have been through different leagues through all those years and to be able to make it now after all that time is a great accomplishment for our players.

"It's quite an honor to be practicing during the Thanksgiving week, because that means you're still alive and you still have a game to play. It's unusual for us, but we'll take it. …The kids are very excited and they are pumped up for the game for sure."

The Bulldogs have been able to be successful in the postseason largely due to the solid play of their defense. Freshman linebacker Andy Reyes led the change last week against Santa Fe with seven tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. As a team, Burbank recorded five sacks for minus-45 yards.

The Burbank defense might have taken a back seat this season in many games because the team's offense has been so productive. Leading that offensive charge is junior running back James Williams, who continues to add to his school-record 22 rushing touchdowns in a season. Williams has carried the ball 149 times, gained 1,433 yards and is averaging 9.6 points a game.

Williams, who was suffering from a sore ankle and only had 10 carries last week, is second on the Burbank all-time list for yardage in a season, trailing only Ulises Ochoa, who gained 1,504 in 2009.

"That [Williams] is a very good player," Beltran said. "We know he was a little banged up last week and he didn't get that many carries, but we expect him to be healthy and ready to go against us. He runs hard, he has some speed and he's hard to bring down. We just have to find a way to stop him."

But Williams is far from Burbank's lone weapon. The squad also has two accomplished running backs in senior Joseph Pendleton (111 carries for 848 yards and 13 touchdowns) and junior Tony Toledo (71 carries for 584 yards and seven touchdowns). Orchestrating the offense has been junior quarterback Ryan Meredith, who has completed 117 of 203 passes for 27 touchdowns to just one interception. Meredith broke the school record for touchdowns in a season previously set by Mike McDonald in 2004.

In Valencia's research on La Serna (10-2) — which captured the Del Rio League championship — he discovered a team that runs a similar offense to his own.

"They are a lot like us for sure," Valencia said. "At times they look like a mirror image of us. They like to establish the run, they use multiple running backs and run misdirection plays and multiple handoffs. They also have a very good quarterback. They have some talented players on offense, no doubt."

The catalyst to the La Serna offense has been senior quarterback Frankie Palmer. Palmer is a dual threat. Along with completing 131 of 215 passes for 1,998 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions, Palmer has also rushed for 670 yards in 84 carries and seven touchdowns.

The Lancers also have four running backs with 500 or more yards: juniors Bryce Oliver (94 carries for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns), Kevin Ramos (71 carries for 620 yards and seven touchdowns) and Ruben Rios (70 carries for 510 yards and four touchdowns) and sophomore Anthony Garcia (51 carries for 503 yards and six touchdowns).

"Really, the key for us has been the play of Frankie this season," Beltran said. "He has orchestrated our offense, yes, but he is also a team captain and he's a leader of our team and he's done a great job at that. It's his leadership abilities that really make him a special player."

In La Serna's road to the semifinals, it defeated Burroughs in the first round and continued to roll in the second round by blasting Diamond Bar, 51-7.

If the Bulldogs survive Friday's game, they would host the championship contest Dec. 7. Burbank would take on either Pacific League champion Muir (11-1) or Suburban League champion La Mirada (12-0), the No. 1 seed. Burbank lost to Muir, 24-17, in a league game Oct. 18.

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