Great prep football season ends with a bang

Great prep football season ends with a bang
De La Salle running back Antoine Custer shakes off Centennial defender Tay Winston in the second quarter of the CIF State Open Divsion bowl game Saturday at StubHub Center. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

After 16 weeks of high school football, it was only fitting that the final game Saturday night produced moments of madness, mayhem and magnificence.

Concord De La Salle's 63-42 victory over Corona Centennial (it was a football game with a basketball score) in the CIF state championship Open Division bowl game at StubHub Center was a frantic, sometimes wild display of the new brand of football taking over the prep scene.

It was De La Salle's veer offense relying on its offensive line to open gaping holes with precision thrusts versus Centennial's fast-paced, no-huddle attack that tries to overwhelm defenders with relentless bursts of speed and athleticism.

It resulted in ties at 7-7, 14-14, 28-28, 35-35 and 42-42 until the Spartans finally began to pull away. Centennial had been through this kind of game before, experiencing 15 lead changes in a 68-64 playoff victory over Gardena Serra. The surprise was that De La Salle, supposedly untested against Northern California competition, embraced the wildness and beat Centennial at what it does best — prevail in a shootout.


The Spartans (14-0) couldn't be stopped with any kind of regularity on the ground. They amassed 564 yards rushing, with junior Antoine Custer gaining 268 yards in 31 carries and scoring four touchdowns, and junior Andrew Hernandez gaining 175 yards in 26 carries and scoring three touchdowns. It really was a helpless feeling for a Centennial defense that had no answer for De La Salle's blocking schemes.

"I'm not sure there's a defense that has stopped them all year," Centennial Coach Matt Logan said. "They do a great job executing."

Centennial (12-3) certainly gave the Spartans all they could handle until two interceptions and a fumble resulted in zero points over the final 17 minutes.

"No weird formations, nothing unusual, they're just really good," De La Salle Coach Justin Alumbaugh said. "They have athletes all over the field and they're very well-coached. They gave us all we could handle, but our guys played with a lot of guts. That's a difficult team to stop."

It's always difficult trying to defeat De La Salle, the school that once had a 151-game winning streak. It has happened three times in the nine-year history of the bowl games, and each time it was because the opponent rose up defensively. If there's a lasting lesson, it's that strong defense is the way to knock off the Spartans, as St. John Bosco did last season, 20-14.

"Now I see why they're so great," Centennial junior receiver Javon McKinley said. "They wanted it more than us. They came up with big plays and stopped us when they had to."

Speaking of great, that's McKinley, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound All-American in the making. He had an 87-yard touchdown reception, a 25-yard touchdown reception and returned a kickoff 92 yards for another touchdown. He finished with six catches for 153 yards. This season, he had 97 receptions for 2,062 yards and 25 touchdowns.

What a memorable season it was. There were new divisional champions in the Southern Section helped by revised playoff divisions. There was the old stalwart, Narbonne, winning another City title. There were standout quarterbacks seemingly everywhere in the year of the quarterback.

Most of all, there was the four-week grind of the grueling Pac-5 playoffs. Because the competition was so good, for just a brief moment, everyone forgot whether the teams involved were public or private. It was the best taking on the best and provided a great representation on the quality of prep football in Southern California.