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Franklin and Hector Ceballos are soaring again in Northern League

Hector Ceballos of Franklin leaps over Anthony Leon-Vidales of Eagle Rock to make a 42-yard catch.
(Craig Weston)

The only sold-out crowd near the Arroyo Seco on Friday night was at Eagle Rock High, where some 2,000 spectators gathered to watch one of the oldest high school football rivalries in Los Angeles, Eagle Rock against Franklin. Two miles apart, the schools have met 77 times and this time they each entered the game unbeaten.

The game turned out to be another opportunity to see the magnificent pass-catching skills of Franklin All-City receiver Hector Ceballos. Last season, he set a City Section record with 27 receptions in a game. It was no fluke. He finds ways to catch passes that defensive backs think should be interceptions.

It happened three times Friday where he went over defenders to steal the ball. It led to a 22-yard touchdown catch and two catches of 42 yards. Eagle Rock (6-1) never figured out what to do about Ceballos as the Panthers (6-0) took the Northern League opener in a 30-13 victory. Franklin’s defense also stepped up behind linebacker Brian Villareal.

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Ceballos had 10 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Starting quarterback Eduardo Cuevas passed for 210 yards. Backup quarterback Jonathan Velazquez had two touchdown passes in the second half and a touchdown run. The score was tied 7-7 at halftime. Ceballos opened the third quarter with a nine-yard touchdown catch from Velazquez. Then the Panthers added a safety for a 16-7 lead. Ray Garcia caught a 15-yard touchdown pass to start the fourth quarter for a 23-7 lead.

The most pertinent question is whether a win on Friday night will end up being a reward or a curse? The winner is headed to the City Section Open Division playoffs and a likely unbeaten regular season. The last Northern League team to have an unbeaten regular season was Lincoln, which saw its 10-0 season in 2021 come to a screeching halt in a 52-0, running-clock opening playoff loss to Lake Balboa Birmingham.

Neither school appears to have the players up front to challenge the likes of Birmingham and San Pedro, but that doesn’t mean they won’t embrace the challenge.

“We’re the only team in our league that has won an Open Division game and relish the opportunity to play in the Open,” Eagle Rock coach Andy Moran said.

“We want to win every game.” Franklin coach Narcisco Diaz said. “Wherever they place us, that’s where we’ll be happy.”

The fact Eagle Rock and Franklin have regained their spots atop the Northern League hierarchy so rapidly after crashing to the bottom during the pandemic season of 2021 is a bit surprising. Under the orders of their principals, Eagle Rock and Franklin chose not to have an abbreviated season in the spring of 2021.

When Eagle Rock was reconstituted in May 2021, there were only 13 players at the first day of practice, Moran said. Franklin wasn’t much larger. Now both programs are on the rise, with full junior varsity rosters too.

An Eagle Rock win over Granada Hills and running back Dijon Stanley earlier this season opened some eyes among City Section observers. It showed the Eagles have enough strength and size on its lines to be in the conversation.

“The fact we were able to compete with Granada Hills, which is a great football, shows how far we’ve come,” Moran said.

Among their players is 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior lineman Jacob Bernal, a three-sport athlete. There’s also senior Anthony Leon-Vidales, a star running back, receiver and defensive back.

Diaz went to middle school with several Eagle Rock grads, and they always seem to send him messages before and after the game. “They’re talking smack,” he said before the game.

Not anymore.


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