High school football: Narbonne makes the most of playoff chance

Narbonne players take a knee with their backs to the camera.
Narbonne players have come together after an 0-8 regular season to advance to the City Section Division III semifinals.
(Rebecca Alvarado)

There are signs of life in the Harbor City Narbonne High football program. The eight-time City Section champions hit rock bottom after the 2019 season when the Gauchos faced a two-year playoff ban and had to vacate the 2018 title for rule violations. The head coach left and players abandoned the team en masse.

Malcolm Manuel, a former Wilmington Banning junior varsity coach, took over as head coach in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team played one game last spring and lost.

This season, the team went 0-8 in the regular season but made the Division III playoffs. Suddenly the Gauchos are 2-8 and playing top-seeded Woodland Hills Taft on Friday in the semifinals.


“It’s the most crazy, unpredictable season,” Manuel said. “We’re literally thankful for another opportunity.”

The Gauchos have been adding players every week as more and more fulfilled the Los Angeles Unified School District mandate to become fully vaccinated. There was a roster of 19 that expanded to 23 and might reach 26 by next week.

The Gauchos defeated Manual Artis 28-8 on Friday. Narbonne’s team is neighborhood kids with no transfer students trying to bring positive results to a program that had been rocked by controversy.

Junior quarterback Ryan Corley passed for four touchdowns and freshman linebacker Mark Iheanachor had 13 tackles.

“They’re hungry, they’re competitive,” Manuel said. “It’s a testament to the league we play in. They love to play, they love competing. Right now they’re relishing their moment and cherishing it. It’s great to taste winning.”

Dominguez stays alive: Compton Dominguez, once a powerhouse, had 16 players on the roster when coaches Deon Toliver and Ralph Oliver took over the program five years ago. The Dons have been making improvement and advanced to the Southern Section Division 6 semifinals after a 40-34 win over Santa Ana.

Quarterback Jordan Ford completed 13 of 20 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns. Taylor Woods rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns and Ormanie Arnold gained 135 yards and scored one touchdown.


In a boon for the city, Compton High reached the Division 12 semifinals with a 24-21 win over Walnut.

No surprises: After three months of debate and games, the Southern Section turned out to be just as expected. The Final Four in Division 1 on Friday will have Anaheim Servite (9-2) at Bellflower St. John Bosco (10-1) and Santa Ana Mater Dei (9-0) playing at Corona Centennial (11-0). They have been the top four teams since August. Mater Dei and Centennial were supposed to meet in the opening game but it was canceled because of COVID-19 protocols.

Mater Dei and St. John Bosco have met in every Division 1 championship game since 2016. Centennial is the last team other than the Monarchs and Braves to win a Division 1 title in 2015.