GARDENA — All year, football coaches throughout Southern California have marveled at the team speed of Junipero Serra High in Gardena.
The Cavaliers put their explosiveness on display in the first half Friday night, scoring all of their points before the break to defeat visiting Paso Robles 41-23 in the CIF-Southern Section Western Division semifinals.
“Tremendous athletes on their team,” Bearcats coach Rich Schimke said. “They’re superb. That’s all I can say.”
Serra (13-0), which entered the game ranked No. 24 in the country in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 and No. 27 in ESPN RISE’s national Fab 50, moved on to face either Chaminade of West Hills or Arroyo Grande in the championship game next week.
The other two schools will play at 7 tonight at Doug Hitchen Stadium in Arroyo Grande.
If Arroyo Grande wins, it would also have to travel to Serra, because of a predetermined coin flip.
Playing before a sizable contingent of Bearcats faithful who traveled, Paso Robles kept competing in the second half, ignoring the scoreboard.
Paso Robles scored on a Jake Rodriguez 3-yard return of a fumble recovery nine seconds into the third quarter, and the defense went on to post a shutout the rest of the way, holding Cavaliers quarterback Conner Preston to 38 passing yards after the break.
“They got off to a quick start, and we answered the call,” Schimke said. “We came out and set the tone in the second half and finished strong.”
Bearcats running back Jesse Felgenhauer ran for 62 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and also caught four passes for 30 yards.
Max Blanton had a 36-yard TD catch for Paso Robles, and Garrett Schasteen connected on a 35-yard field goal.
Quarterback Jacob Searcy ran for 59 yards and passed for 134.
Paso Robles receiver Elias Stokes caught two passes for 67 yards and added a 47-yard kickoff return at one point.
Harley Holt had 1.5 sacks for Paso Robles’ defense, and Ruben Lopez had half of a sack.
The win was the 28th straight overall for the top-seeded Cavaliers.
Preston, who transferred to Serra from Pacific Palisades High last year and has already committed to SMU, picked up his yards in chunks. He finished 18-of-24 passing for 308 yards and five scores.
The Cavaliers, who’re loaded with nearly a dozen seniors widely evaluated as high-level Division I college recruits, are shooting for a return trip to a California prep bowl game after winning a state title in that venue a year ago.
Chief among Serra’s next-level stars is receiver George Farmer, rated as a top-five recruit in the nation regardless of position. He caught eight passes for a game-best 88 yards Friday.
Paso Robles’ storybook season included the Bearcats’ first outright league title since 2005 and its first trip to the semifinal round since 2001.
Fourth-seeded Paso Robles (10-3) entered Friday having achieved a statewide ranking of No. 33 by CalPreps.com.
The Bearcats enjoyed an undefeated run through PAC 7 play this year before opening the postseason by eliminating Oxnard, 21-6, and then Inglewood, 35-21.
“That was a great football team that we played tonight, and we’re a great football team, as well,” Schimke said.
“They can look themselves in the eye and say that they gave their full-out effort. They don’t want to be 10, 15, 20-whatever years from now and regret not giving their all in a semifinal game.
“My hat’s off to my kids,” Schimke said. “They never quit. That’s what we preach, and I’m very proud.”