Column: Garfield ready for a mud bowl vs. Gardena after playoff win over San Pedro

Damian Cornejo of Garfield runs through a hole created by his linemen against San Pedro.
Damian Cornejo of Garfield runs through a hole created by his linemen against San Pedro. He scored three touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 38-21 win.
(Craig Weston)
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Time is running out for Garfield’s football field that has more exposed dirt than green grass. It’s scheduled to be replaced by an all-weather turf field. Construction is supposed to begin next month. With rain forecast for next week, a football game Friday night in the City Section Open Division semifinals against Gardena could produce the greatest mud game since . . .1982 Jets-Dolphins.

“It will be historic,” coach Lorenzo Hernandez said.

It was three yards and a real cloud of dust at times in Garfield’s 38-21 win over San Pedro on Thursday night in an Open Division quarterfinal. Damian Cornejo, who missed the previous three games because of a bruised leg, rushed for 233 yards in 30 carries and scored three touchdowns.

He can’t wait to face Gardena in the mud. Well, sort of. Last season, the Bulldogs played Golden Valley in a state playoff game, and it was so muddy that Cornejo threw out his cleats after the game.

“This is way worse,” Cornejo said.

It could be a muddy field at Garfield for City Open Division semifinal on Friday against Gardena.
(Craig Weston)

Garfield and San Pedro were tied 14-14 at halftime. The Bulldogs hurt themselves with two lost fumbles. And just when they looked like they were ready to pull away in the second half, Dylan Rubino of San Pedro came up with an interception and a touchdown to tie the score at 21-21.

Damian Cabrera didn’t take long to make up for the turnover. The Garfield quarterback connected with Paul Ramos for a 30-yard touchdown pass just before the third quarter ended to give the Bulldogs a 28-21 lead.

Hernandez had seen enough. The order was made to start relying on Garfield’s line and give the ball to Cornejo. He started picking up yards out of the wildcat formation with direct snaps.

Garfield got big plays from a number of players. Dominic Vasquez contributed his fifth interception of the season, caught a 24-yard touchdown pass and had a tackle for a loss. Jayden Barnes made a critical, 25-yard gain to set up a Cornejo touchdown. Joshua Estrada had a sack on fourth down to frustrate the Pirates.

This was Garfield’s first game since beating Roosevelt in the East L.A. Classic. The Bulldogs’ focus is on getting back to the Open Division championship game, even though alumni care about wins against Roosevelt. That’s why Cornejo was held out of the game, so he’d be healthy for the playoffs.

“For sure, this was more important to save my body,” Cornejo said.

San Pedro's Adrian Aldamo lifts up Santiago Rivera after Rivera's touchdown against Garfield.
(Craig Weston)

The Open Division is going just as the seedings predicted. Top-seeded Birmingham routed Narbonne 57-19 and will host No. 4 Carson, which defeated Granada Hills 34-12. Carson’s Jerry Misaalefua rushed for 224 yards and scored four touchdowns. No. 2 Garfield will play No. 3 Gardena, a 14-10 winner over Palisades.

In Division I, the big news is the return to prominence of Crenshaw, which advanced to the semifinals with a 49-24 win over Venice. The semifinals will have No. 5 Dymally at No. 1 Banning and No. 3 Crenshaw at No. 2 Franklin.

In Division II, Fairfax received four touchdown passes from Ivan Levant to stun top-seeded Arleta 35-17. Angelou improved to 12-0 by defeating Eagle Rock 42-41. Eagle Rock went for the win with 35 seconds left, but a two-point conversion attempt failed by inches. Sophomore Nicholas Quintanilla had three rushing touchdowns and junior Branden Morales had two rushing touchdowns in the win. The semifinals have No. 9 Fairfax at No. 4 Angelou and No. 3 San Fernando at No. 2 Chatsworth.