With its starting running backs unable to practice all week because of injuries prior to Burbank High’s CIF Southern Section Southeast Division semifinal, the Bulldogs were at a distinct disadvantage.
With star running back James Williams hobbled, Joseph Pendleton knocked out of the game in the first half and Tony Toledo not even suited up for Friday’s contest against No. 2 La Serna, Burbank turned to its defense to take some of the pressure off.
The Bulldogs’ defense did something no other opponent has been able to do against the Lancers in the playoffs — keep them in check for long periods.
However, despite their best efforts, La Serna was able to tally a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to earn a 28-21 victory at California High.
“What I liked about our guys is that we fought until the very end and they never gave up,” said Burbank Coach Hector Valencia, whose team earned wins against Mayfair and Santa Fe to earn a spot in the semifinals. “When they scored that last touchdown they were still out there trying to score. I have to give a lot of credit to my guys for that.”
Williams, who came into the game with 1,433 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns, was nursing a sore ankle and was relatively ineffective. Williams was also keyed on by the La Serna (11-2) defense. The junior ended the game with 27 yards in 15 carries with no touchdowns.
“All of our backs were banged up and none of them really practiced this week,” Valencia said. “We had freshmen come in and take snaps because we didn’t have any of our running backs.
“And James not getting a lot of yards wasn’t his fault. They had a good game plan against him and he just wasn’t able to get the yards he usually does. But you can’t fault him for that. You can credit their defense for that. But our offense was there. We missed some opportunities and we left some points on the board for sure. But at least they gave the effort.”
One of those missed opportunities for Burbank (10-2) – which finished tied for second in the Pacific League – came with 10:28 left in the second quarter.
Burbank drove the ball to the La Serna two-yard line and faced fourth down. However, a quarterback sneak by Ryan Meredith was stopped at the one.
The Bulldogs also missed on a 28-yard field goal with 27.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter that would have given them the lead.
“We should have scored more points on offense,” said Meredith, who completed 11 of 23 passes for 244 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. “Our defense played really well, but our offense could have played a little better. We had more opportunities to score, but we didn’t.”
Burbank senior wide receiver Oharjee Brown had a big game, tallying five catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
The winning drive by the Lancers started out on the Burbank 44-yard line with 3:12 remaining in the game after a stalled Burbank drive and a short punt. La Serna kept the drive going and quarterback Frankie Palmer plunged in for a three-yard score with 28.8 seconds remaining.
“You have to give that quarterback credit,” Valencia said. “He really orchestrated their offense and he really was the key for them.”
Palmer ran for two touchdowns and threw for a third, as he threw for 164 yards.
After La Serna scored early in the first quarter, Burbank came back and knotted the score at 7 on a 45-yard run by Pendleton. However, shortly afterward Pendleton was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury.
The Bulldogs were able to take a 14-7 advantage with 4:23 left in the first quarter when Meredith found Brown on a 49-yard touchdown pass. On the play, Brown caught the ball at about the 20, juked several La Serna defenders and romped into the end zone.
But the Lancers – who won the Suburban League title — came back, as D’Andre Sanchez intercepted Meredith and returned it 33 yards to tie the score at 14 with 2:38 left before half.
Coming out of halftime tied, Burbank got a gift in the form of a touchdown with 10:16 left in the third quarter.
On a pass to Brown, La Serna defense back Jalen Thompson tipped the ball right into the hands of Brown, who scored on the 38-yard strike.
With Burbank clinging to a 21-14 lead, the Lancers again pulled even at 21 with 3:03 left in the third quarter following a five-yard run by Palmer.
“I think a game like this really shows that we can compete with the best teams in the division,” Valencia said. “It says a lot about our program and what we’ve been trying to do. The kids should be proud.”
In the other Southeast Division semifinal, Pacific League champion Muir lost to Norwalk, 35-28.