Keith Birmingham’s SIGHTS OF THE GAME
Almost a year after suffering the worst defeat in the history of CIF-Southern Section division championship games, La Serna High School got payback by ending the two-year reign of West Covina in the Southeast Division semifinals on Friday night at California High.
The Lancers turned a 17-14 halftime deficit into a 35-17 win to advance to the division championship next week against Downey, which beat Santa Fe 35-3.
“If you’ve been around the last two or three years, our guys never quit,” La Serna coach Margarito Beltran said. “We had a rough start and the kids persevered.”
La Serna improved to 12-1. West Covina, which beat the Lancers 84-21 in last year’s championship game, finished 8-5.
La Serna can thank its defense for changing the flow of the game at the start of the second half. Michael Dingillo recovered a West Covina fumble inside the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line on the first possession of the third quarter to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Gio Long to take the lead, 21-17.
Following a stop on West Covina’s next possession, the Lancers got the ball back at their own 38 and wasted little time adding to their lead on a 50-yard run by Luke Gonzales. Just three minutes into the second half, the Lancers were up 28-17.
West Covina drove into La Serna territory but stalled and faced fourth and 5 at the Lancers’ 20. Antonio Hull’s pass to the goal line for Sidney Jones was incomplete and La Serna had the ball back.
“We had a couple drives in the game which didn’t lead to points,” West Covina head coach Mike Maggiore said. “They’re a very good football team.
“I’m proud of our guys, the effort they showed the last four weeks with their backs to wall. We can definitely hold our heads up high.”
A methodical drive aided by big runs and throws from La Serna quarterback Frankie Palmer ended with Beltran rolling the dice on fourth and 1 from the West Covina 2.
Beltran shunned the field goal and opted to put the two-time champions away by turning to Long, who scored from 2 yards to make it 35-17.
“We were able to stop their offense cold,” Beltran said. “I think that was the difference in the game, was that we were able to stop them. We gave them two touchdowns.”
West Covina was stopped on downs again, and La Serna ran out the clock.
West Covina took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter as Hull connected with receiver Jesus Wong on a 52-yard touchdown pass on a halfback option to make the score 7-0, and then Jones scored on an 86-yard punt return.
La Serna got off the mat early in the second quarter with a 13-yard touchdown run by Gonzales to make it 14-7.
La Serna tied the score 14-14 after a clutch scramble on fourth-and-6 by Palmer and a long pass to John McFarland set up Long for 1-yard touchdown run.