For nearly 2 1/2 hours in Granada Hills, with tiny red flames glowing from the darkness beyond the west goal posts at John Elway Stadium, San Fernando and Birmingham put aside the fires, smoke, tension and turmoil taking place nearby to engage in an emotional City Section Open Division football playoff game Friday night.
With the Patriots clinging to a six-point lead, San Fernando faced a fourth down on the 24-yard line.
The Tigers had recovered an onside kick after an eight-yard touchdown reception by Kyle Bryant with 1:04 left.
Quarterback Adrian Lopez was in shotgun formation. Before he could even think about throwing a game-tying touchdown pass, freshman Arlis Boardingham blitzed from the right side and sacked Lopez as a large Birmingham crowd roared its approval.
There were 10 seconds left. Birmingham won 20-14.
With the win, Birmingham, now the best City team in the San Fernando Valley, has reached the Open Division semifinals.
“Huge win,” quarterback Jason Artiga said.
Birmingham will face No. 1 seed Narbonne next Friday at Narbonne.
Artiga completed 15 of 31 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also ran for a touchdown.
He was helped out by his outstanding receivers.
Mason White caught four passes for 109 yards, including a four-yard touchdown reception with 3:26 left in the third quarter that wiped out a 7-6 deficit.
It was set up by a White 73-yard pass play in which he showed off his speed. White, 15, is one of the youngest juniors in the state.
Then there was senior Abdul Lateef Audu. He caught five passes for 121 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Birmingham’s defense held San Fernando’s 1,000-yard rushers, Bryant and Nehemiah Thompson, to 66 and 56 yards rushing, respectively.
“The whole year, they said we could not stop their run,” Artiga said. “We did.”
The first half ended with San Fernando ahead 7-6. Both teams were one-dimensional on offense, with San Fernando relying on the rushing game and Birmingham relying on the passing game.
Birmingham hadn’t played in 21 days, and the Patriots’ receivers looked rusty.
Lateef Audu dropped a potential touchdown on Birmingham’s first offensive play. He was open by about 10 yards but couldn’t handle the long pass from Artiga.
The Patriots had another dropped pass in the end zone by Boardingham. Both showed resiliency by showing up when it mattered most.
The two schools combined have won eight City titles. San Fernando hasn’t won an upper division title since the great wishbone teams of 1974 and 1975.
The Tigers have been waiting 17 years to play Birmingham since the last time the two schools met.