Almost from the get-go, the vibe of Mission Prep’s CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division final against Salesian wasn’t good.
Senior running back Patrick Laird twisted his ankle on the first play of the game, and two plays later sophomore quarterback Patrick Miller threw an interception.
Taking over deep in Mission Prep’s territory, Salesian shortly after fumbled, and the Royals recovered.
But not much else went well after that for Mission Prep. And for the second straight year, the Royals (11-3) left a division championship game with a bitter taste — albeit with a much less thrilling contest.
The Royals lost 34-0 in Boyle Heights near downtown Los Angeles in front of a raucous Salesian crowd of hundreds that got its revenge after a 54-26 loss to the Royals last year in the Northeast Division semifinal.
The Royals got to the Salesian 5-yard line late in the game, hoping to win at least a moral victory by punching in a touchdown.
But a Miller pass to Evan Talbert sailed long, and the Mustangs took over on downs.
“Laird sprained his ankle on that first play, and he was gimpy the whole game,” Mission Prep coach Chad Henry said. “I think that hurt us mentally as much as it did strategically, but we couldn’t get much going. We had trouble moving the ball.”
Laird battled through the injury, coming off the field at times after plays during the game for rests.
But Laird, who entered with 3,068 yards rushing this season, had a season-low 43 yards rushing and often was met by a charging tackler almost as soon as he was handed the ball.
Miller threw for 70 yards on 3-for-11 passing and had two interceptions. Talbert had two catches for 47 yards, and Trevor Fernandez, back from injury, had a 23-yard grab.
Royals assistant Rich Seubert, who has been instrumental in the development of the Mission Prep offensive line, commented on the sideline in the second half, “these guys are good.”
Seubert continued to offer encouragement to his front five — who have been a sturdy wall all season to open gaps for Laird — and were clearly outmatched by a bulky Salesian defense.
“Hey, we got a couple of first downs,” Seubert told his line. “We just have to finish.”
Salesian features a star-studded team with three players committed to play football at Arizona and a fourth with several offers from elite programs, including UCLA.
Salesian (12-2) was led by Felipe Meza, who rushed for 149 yards on 23 carries.
Quarterback Blaise Booth threw for 179 yards on 9-for-11 passing and connected with Chris Pryor for two touchdowns along with a 53-yard scoring completion to Jeremy Kelly on a screen pass and a 17-yard touchdown throw to Arizona-bound Marquis Ware to put the icing on the cake.
Mission Prep hoped for a better showing after a devastating loss to Rio Hondo Prep last year in the final.
In that game, it came down to the wire and they lost 28-21. Friday’s defeat was a tough one to swallow partly because they got down 27-0 at halftime and were fighting for survival for most of the game.
“They feed off their emotion, and once they got momentum, it became very difficult for us to stop them,” Henry said. “I thought our defense played decent. We gave up some big plays, but this game could have been 21-0. We just couldn’t get any offense going.”
But Henry said few believed after losing 21 seniors from last year’s group Mission Prep would be in this position again.
“We’re building a program step by step,” Henry said. “There are more than a thousand high school football teams in California, and only 86 played in a CIF final. Forty-three were in the position we were tonight. I’m happy for the team and what they accomplished this season.”