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High School Sports

Column: Jaylon Armstead brings instant scoring to Serra in season-opening victory

Gardena Serra running back Jaylon Armstead breaks free for a long touchdown run against Garfield in the second quarter on Friday.
Gardena Serra running back Jaylon Armstead breaks free for a long touchdown run against Garfield in the second quarter on Friday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The first two times Jaylon Armstead of Gardena Serra touched the football on Friday night against Garfield, he ran 60 and 75 yards for touchdowns. Then the Cavaliers threw an incomplete pass on their third play, causing a fan to scream from the bleachers, “Run the football.”

Smart fan.

Armstead was handed the ball three more times in the first half and scored on runs of two, three and 82 yards. He was five for five in scoring touchdowns when he touched the ball.

“That’s never happened before — five for five,” he said. “I just thank my offensive line.”

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Armstead finished with 222 yards rushing in five carries in Serra’s 41-14 season-opening victory. The defense, led by two sacks by super quick junior linebacker Lando Brown, recorded six tackles for losses of Garfield quarterback Jonathan Bautista. Serra opened a 34-0 lead and never looked back despite more than 100 yards in penalties and one series in which the Cavaliers were called three times for roughing the passer.

“I don’t think defensively we were prepared,” Garfield coach Lorenzo Hernandez said. “I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot. We kept our fight and our cool.”

Tiny but tough Garfield running back PJ Garcia kept the Bulldogs competitive in the second half, getting the ball again and again on a direct snap in a power rushing formation. He finished with 91 yards rushing in 28 carries and scored a touchdown.

As for Armstead, Serra coach Scott Altenberg has been predicting he’d have a “breakout season.” He played injured last season.

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“I’m back healthy,” Armstead said. “I’m ready to show the world what I can do.”

With four returning starters on the offensive line, Serra was supposed to be able to run the ball, and the group of JaCobe Simms, Jose Aceves, Billy Claxton and Corey Martin dominated up front. But Simms also went down with an injury, and that’s the big challenge — staying healthy with a 40-man roster while playing in a top division.

There was something strange happening when Serra was on offense. You had to be a longtime observer of the Cavaliers to figure it out. They were in a huddle.

“It’s very weird,” senior receiver Lavon Bunkley-Shelton said.

In recent years, the Cavaliers have run a no-huddle, quick tempo attack, with the goal to run 80 or more plays a game. But Altenberg has decided he needs to keep players healthy, so there will be fewer plays, more running and an attempt to not let a lack of depth derail their playoff chances with a 40-man roster.

“In a normal world, that’s fine,” Altenberg said. “But in Division 1, you have to have depth to be successful, and it’s been hard.” Last year in a playoff game against Bellflower St. John Bosco, the Cavaliers were without three injured linemen and lost 49-0.

No school in Southern California had more players on NFL rosters to start fall camp than the Cavaliers with 10. The talent is still around the school but keeping players healthy will be Altenberg’s priority each week. With nonleague games against Calabasas, Long Beach Poly and Narbonne, Serra will have every chance to show how good it can be.


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