Troy Leigber leads Laguna Hills to 3-A regional bowl victory over Birmingham

Troy Leigber of Laguna Hills scored three touchdowns against Birmingham in the first half of a 3-A regional bowl game.
(Craig Weston)

More than 90 minutes before Saturday night’s Division 3-A regional football bowl game at Lake Balboa Birmingham, Troy Leigber of Laguna Hills was in his own little world loosening up and breaking a sweat moving up and down the field by himself. It’s what a senior with a 4.4 grade-point average and a distinguished work ethic does to prepare for what might be his final high school game.

He’s the Hawks’ star running back, with 2,337 yards and 39 touchdowns coming into Saturday. Birmingham coach Jim Rose knew what his team would face.

“He’s the real deal,” Rose said before the game. “He’s big and has good balance. If we can’t tackle him, we’re in for a long night.”


It was a long night dealing with Leigber, who ran for three touchdowns and scored another on a kickoff return to send the Hawks (14-1) to a 35-28 victory. He finished with 121 yards rushing in 28 carries.

“He’s the engine that makes this machine work,” coach John Lester said. “He’s special.”

A Sam Stark sack of Birmingham quarterback Kingston Tisdell with 44 seconds left on fourth down at the Laguna Hills 35 clinched the victory. Laguna Hills will advance to play San Jose Bellarmine in the 3-A final in Northern California next Saturday.

Laguna Hills had the ball three times in the first half and each drive ended with a Leigber touchdown run.

He had first-half touchdowns on runs of 11, one and 19 yards. He gained 94 yards in 20 carries. Laguna Hills held a 21-14 halftime lead. Birmingham received touchdowns from running back Naiim Morgan on a 43-yard run and Peyton Waters on a 21-yard touchdown reception.

The Patriots decided to adopt the grinding style of Laguna Hills to start the second half, using almost eight minutes to score a tying touchdown and make it 21-21 when Waters ran two yards for the score.

Then Leigber returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, putting Laguna Hills back on top 28-21.

Birmingham turned to its standout all-around player, Waters, to keep pace. The Patriots tied the score at 28-28 with 11:13 left on Waters’ third touchdown, a five-yard run.


Then Laguna Hills’ Drew Wade caught a 52-yard touchdown pass for a 35-28 lead with 9:24 left.

Quarterback Kaden Austin completed eight of 10 passes for 188 yards for Laguna Hills. Morgan rushed for 129 yards for Birmingham and Waters caught nine passes for 112 yards.

This was a chance to see how much Birmingham had improved since its struggles in August and September when it went 1-4 against Southern Section competition. The Patriots had since become primarily a running team trying to take pressure off sophomore quarterback Tisdell in winning the City Section Open Division championship.

Jomar Adams of Birmingham leaps to deflect ball against Laguna Hills.
(Craig Weston)

“If it’s working, no need to change,” Rose said before the game. The offensive line had developed into a strength, led by 310-pound junior Abdoni Ubeda.

Laguna Hills won the Southern Section Division 7 championship and produced a memorable season for coach John Lester, who had two brain surgeries to remove a tumor in the offseason and returned to guide the Hawks, whose only loss was to Irvine Northwood, 21-17 on Oct. 14.

It was a big night for a couple of City Section teams. Crenshaw won its 7-A bowl game, 48-7 over Whittier Christian, and will play next Saturday on the road against San Francisco Lincoln.

Granada Hills and Laguna Beach engaged in a wild 4-A regional bowl game with the Highlanders prevailing 56-55. Dijon Stanley scored four touchdowns and rushed for 252 yards for Granada Hills.

Granada Hills Kennedy was beaten by San Gabriel 46-34 in Division 6-A.