After back-to-back losses to premiere teams Harbor City Narbonne (CIF-Los Angeles City Division I champion and Southern California Division I Bowl Championship qualifier) and West Hills Chaminade (Mission League champion and Southern Section Western Division finalist against Serra) that dropped Serra High’s football team’s record to 4-2 after its first Mission League game, the Cavaliers were determined never to lose again and peak at the right time.
Despite a mostly young but experienced squad, hard work, good athleticism and speed helped the Cavaliers do exactly that. They avenged their 28-20 league opening loss to the Eagles with a 30-28 win in the CIF-Southern Section Western Division championship game on Dec. 1 at Serra and received an invitation to the California State Bowl Series, playing Southern Section Southwest Division chamion Huntington Beach Edison in the Southern California Regional Division II Bowl Championship Game on Dec. 8 at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. Serra rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to down the Chargers, 27-10, and received a ticket to last Saturday’s California State Division II Championship Bowl Classic against Northern California champion Oakdale at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
The hard work was earned as the bigger and faster Cavaliers proved too much for the Mustangs with an easy 42-15 victory.
The win finished Serra’s 2012 season at 14-2 and Oakdale, the SAC Joaquin Division II champion that made it to the final by outlasting Concord Clayton Valley 27-24, ended with the same overall record.
It is the Cavaliers second state title. Three years ago, Serra topped Kentfield Marin Catholic, 24-20, for the Division III crown. Two years ago, the Cavaliers lost the California Division II Championship Game to Folsom, 48-20.
The Cavaliers’ offensive show began with senior running back Marques Rodgers and finished off with junior running back-wide receiver Adorre Jackson.
Serra wasted no time on the Mustangs as Rodgers scored all three of his touchdowns in the first quarter that helped the Cavaliers build a quick 21-0 lead.
Rodgers scored on runs of 27, 57 and one yards.
The second and early third periods belonged to Jackson, who was also a California state champion long jumper and state finalist in the 200-meter dash and 4×100 and 4×400 relays with Serra’s state runner-up boys’ track and field squad as a sophomore last spring. His first TD came on a 50-yard pass from junior quarterback Jalen Greene with 7:18 left in the second quarter.
With 32 seconds remaining before halftime Jackson caught a screen pass from Greene who finished the 27-yard play by diving over an Oakdale tackler into the end zone that gave the Cavaliers a 35-0 bulge.
The Cavaliers increased that margin to 42-0 with 7:19 to go in the third period when Jackson, on a fourth down-and-31 yards to go fake punt, found daylight on the right side and was gone on a 78-yard scoring run.
“This means a lot to me for coming out and winning state,” Jackson said.
Serra was seeking to be ahead by enough to force a mercy rule running time fourth period, but, at least, the Mustangs were able to prevent that. They scored their first touchdown on a 4-yard run by Nikk Ryan that was followed by a two-point conversion run from quarterback Spencer Thomas that cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 34 points, one shy of the mercy rule margin of 35.
Oakdale scored its second TD on running back Marcus Northcutt’s 1-yard plunge.
“We were a good football team,” Serra head coach Scott Altenberg said. “We didn’t play terrible in our losses. We knew that the best was yet to come. We wanted to make sure that our guys matured. We just kept playing great against great football teams. Our senior class especially did well.”
With a team consisting of mostly sophomores and juniors that could make the Cavaliers even better and, possibly, seek to play in the prestigious state open division next season, Serra’s seniors had a fine game. Rodgers, who scored Serra’s first three touchdowns, ran for 96 yards on just five carries.
Linebacker Malachi Mageo had eight tackles, five of those solo, on defense.
“We put in very hard work and we won state,” Mageo said.
Kicker Ryan Dobson, who transferred to Serra from Playa del Rey St. Bernard over the summer, connected on all six point after touchdown attempts.
Back from an injury was running back Anterio Bateman. He rushed for 35 yards on six carries and had one catch for seven yards.
The underclassmen, though, also proved dominant. Greene had another outstanding game rushing for 105 yards on nine carries and completing seven of 13 passes for 141 yards and two TD’s.
Jackson caught both of those scoring passes and finished with three catches for 82 yards.
On defense, freshman defensive back Blake Walls had two interceptions and sophomore linebacker John Houston recorded 17 tackles, 14 of those solo.
California State Championship Bowl Results:
Friday, Dec. 14:
Division I: Granite Bay 21, Long Beach Poly 20.
Division IV: Modesto Central Catholic 66, Solana Beach Santa Fe Christian 7.
Saturday, Dec. 15:
Open Division: Concord De La Salle 48, Corona Centennial 28.
Division II: Gardena Serra 42, Oakdale 15.
Division III: San Diego Madison 38, Kentfield Marin Catholic 35.
Final South Bay Rankings: 1. Narbonne (14-1); 2. Serra (14-2); 3. Palos Verdes (11-3); 4. West Torrance (10-4); 5. North Torrance (11-3); 6. Mira Costa (8-4); 7. Carson (6-7); 8. San Pedro (7-5); 9. Redondo (5-6); 10. Torrance (6-5).