Photo by Steve Galluzzo

Canoga Park running back Jorge Hernandez dives over Franklin’s Brian Pelayo for a first down in the first half of the City Division II final at El Camino College.                

When Reseda High and El Camino Real Charter High took the field at El Camino College to play for the City Section Division 1 championship on Saturday, Nov. 30, the winner would complete the best showing by Valley-area teams in City postseason football in several years.

Birmingham High and Canoga Park High had already won City titles. The Patriots were a 27-20 victor over Banning High of Wilmington in the Open Division on Friday, Nov. 29. And the Hunters had defeated Franklin High of Los Angeles, 28-20, in the Division 2 game played on Saturday before the Regents-Conquistadors contest.

Under this year’s state CIF Bowl Game playoff format, all City Section and Southern Section champions would appear in the Southern California regional playoffs that take place this week. So the Division 1 winner meant three Valley teams from the City Section would continue their 2019 seasons.

Reseda got that last available invite by its 44-26 victory over El Camino Real. The Regents will next face Esperanza High of Anaheim in the regional Division 5-A game at Yorba Linda High School in Yorba Linda on Saturday, Dec. 7.

Birmingham also plays on Saturday; the Patriots will host Pacifica High of Oxnard in the regional Division 2-A game. Canoga Park will visit South Torrance High in the regional Division  6-AA game on Friday, Dec. 6.

Regents Dominate Conquistadors  

Reseda’s victory was never in doubt after the second quarter, when Regents quarterback Trent Butler threw four consecutive touchdown passes to help his team build a 30-13 halftime lead.

None of the throws were cheapies; they covered 53, 51, 63 and 25 yards. Three were caught by wide receiver Dranel Rhodes, and the other by wide receiver Mario Martinez. On each score, Rhodes and Martinez effortlessly and mercilessly ran past a Conquistadors’ secondary helpless to stop them.

“We were the faster team. And we work hard to make sure we’re faster,” said Rhodes, who scored a fourth touchdown on a 15-yard run in the third quarter. “But this…is unreal. The last time I was in a championship game, I was in the ninth grade and we lost. This was my last year and I was not gonna go out without a bang. I had to finish it off.”

Butler only completed eight of 21 passes in the game (for 265 yards) and none after the second quarter. But he and his receivers had done more than enough damage.

“Throughout the year we’ve seen that not a lot of guys could run with (our receivers),” Butler said. “They’re so good, all these receivers; they’re special athletes and they just took over. At the end of the day they just took over the game.

“We looked at [the Conquistadors’ defense] on film and thought we could make some plays. We respect El Camino Real, they’re a really good team. They gave us a good challenge. But we trust our guys. If we can play our game, what [other defenses] do doesn’t influence too much of what we do. We think we can get what we want.”

The championship was the first for Reseda (10-3) since 1995 and third title in school history. And it felt very special to Regents Head Coach Alonso Arreola. He played football and graduated from Reseda in the spring of 1995 (missing the title run later that fall), and became the head coach 14 years ago.

Arreola has endured his share of teams that either came up short or got a bad seed and were overmatched in the playoffs. Finally winning a title gave him a feeling of peace.

“It’s really nice. It’s so rewarding,” he said afterward. “People don’t always understand the sacrifices that go into it. To get rewarded like this is just amazing. It’s so satisfying. In the 14 years prior to this that we hadn’t won, we were still trying to develop and make progress with these kids, make them better young men. But to do this…just makes it so much sweeter.” 

Hunters Hold Off Panthers

Canoga Park looked like it would also win easily, amassing a 28-0 halftime lead. Jorge Hernandez, who would rush for 186 yards in the game, scored twice on runs of 1-yard and 14 yards while quarterback David Gomez found wide receiver Joshua Christopher for a pair of touchdown passes covering 39 yards and 29 yards.

The Canoga Park coaches warned the team that Franklin was quite capable of coming back. “Coach [Kevin Carlsen] said they can score 28 points, too,” Christopher said. But that didn’t keep the Hunters from becoming the hunted.

The Panthers got life after Brian Pelayo intercepted Gomez early in the third quarter and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. Franklin went on to score two more times in the quarter on a 32-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Alfred Bobadilla to wide receiver Christopher Quijada, and another 32-yard scoring pass from Bobadilla to wide receiver Vincent Escobar.

“I told the kids it doesn’t matter if we win by 50 or by one, a win is a win. But that interception changed things,” Carlsen said. “And a lot of it wasn’t necessarily things they were doing, it was some things we messed up on. But the interception definitely changed the momentum.”

It also set up a tense fourth quarter. Although neither team scored, the Hunters needed two outstanding defensive plays by Christopher and Myles Jones in the last five minutes; both players broke up potential touchdown passes that would have given the Panthers a shot to at least tie the game.

“I guessed the route correctly,” Christopher said about his defensive stop. “They had (three receivers to one side), so they wanted a ‘pick’ play. When one of them came in motion, I knew he was going on an ‘out’ pattern. I see it all the time in the NFL and the college games. Thankfully I made the play, and thankfully Myles made that last saving play.”

It was the school’s first football championship since winning a 3A title in 1981. Canoga Park’s other title was the Division I championship it won in 1968.

“It’s everything and more,” said Carlsen, when asked about the feeling of winning. “We worked so hard, we knew we had a shot to be here, but [it still feels] surreal. Our kids played a hell of a first half. It was a different second half. But we finished it at the end, and that’s all that matters.”