Photo/Darryl Washburn

Chasing A Ghost — Franklin defender Leonel Santiago cannot stop Reseda’s Ja’Lani Ellison from scoring one of his three touchdowns in the City Division III title game.

When it comes to what’s better — not making the playoffs at all or reaching the championship game and falling short — there is no winning argument because you don’t win the game.

So while Reseda (11-3) make take solace in having enjoyed it’s best season since 2010, when it went 10-0 in the regular season and won the Vally Mission League, the 2016 season ended Saturday, Dec. 3, with a 27-18 loss to Franklin High of Los Angeles in the City Section Division III championship game played at El Camino College in Torrance.

The Regents were denied their first City football championship since 1995. The Panthers (13-1) won their fifth overall title, and first since 1989. They advance to the CIF State Regional bowl game, hosting Rancho Christian of Temecula on Friday, Dec. 9 

The disappointment of losing was visible on the face of Reseda Coach Alonso Arreola as the final seconds ticked away, having watched his team fritter away a 12-0 first half lead and waste a three-touchdown game by Ja’Lani Ellison, a sophomore and star in the making.

“I know our energy was great and our effort was good. I just think we didn’t execute as well as we could have. And being a bit short-handed we got fatigued at the end, especially in the second half.”

The Regents will ponder and reflect this offseason on how they let an early 12-0 lead dissolve, and were unable to stop the Panthers at critical junctions of the contest despite missing several key players, most notably running back and linebacker Carlos Hernandez who was injured.

But, to be honest, on this day Reseda lost to the better team.

The Regents struck boldly on the game’s third play — a 50-yard pass from quarterback Michael Martin III to Ellison, who left three defenders in his wake to the end zone. But they missed the extra point — a sign of things that would go wrong on Saturday.

Ellison scored his second touchdown in the quarter with a 53-yard burst, again outrunning defenders. Again the extra point was missed.

Franklin wide receiver David Telles (pronounced Tay-ez) would reverse the game’s momentum by himself in the second quarter.

Franklin had bungled a first-and-goal from the Regents 8-yard line into a third down play from the Reseda 30. Panthers quarterback Mario Bobadella went back to pass and threw it toward the left corner of the end zone. Telles came up with a catch and stayed in bounds. The lead was now down to 12-7.

Telles’ next big play came with 1:55 left in the first half, when he returned a punt 50 yards for a touchdown. Although Reseda blocked the extra point, it was was now trailing 13-12 after having dominating the first 24 minutes.

“That took the air out of us big time,” Arreola said. “We had everything going for us.”

Telles swung another psychological sledgehammer at the Regents when he returned the third quarter kickoff 69 yards for his third touchdown. With the extra point, the lead was 20-12 and the Regents looked stunned.

Ellison, who had 94 yards receiving and 108 yards rushing, struck big one last time by bolting down the left sideline for a 36-yard touchdown run to get Reseda closer, 20-18.

The Regents attempted a 35-yard field goal later in the quarter to reclaim the lead, but the kick fell short. 

Franklin would seal the win on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Bobadilla to Guillermo Cordova at the 8:12 mark of the fourth quarter. Martin — who had 51 yards rushing, two receptions for 35 yards and 54 yards passing — was picked off in the final four minutes of the game by the Franklin defense, and the Reseda never got the ball back.

“You can boil down the game to a few plays, and that’s where it’s won or lost,” Arreola said. He also admitted afterward, “they were a little bit tougher than we thought.”

Even though the Regents — who had endured a 2-8 season as recently as 2014 — fell short of winning their first City football title in 21 years, there is reason for optimism with talent like Ellison and Martin returning next year.

But that’s next year.

“We’ve got some kids to build around. I feel good about Reseda football,” Arreola said. “But we’ve still got some work to do.”