Trying to defend the football team at Junipero Serra High in Gardena this year has been a textbook case of pick-your-poison.
Two weeks ago, in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs, Paso Robles did an effective job of containing Serra’s ground attack, holding running back Shaquille Richard to a season-low 57 yards. The Bearcats were victimized by a first-half passing barrage, though, that led to a 41-23 loss.
On Friday night, Arroyo Grande targeted the pass from the onset of its 35-10 championship-game loss, trying to slow down SMU-bound quarterback Conner Preston and two nationally ranked wide receiver recruits in George Farmer and Marqise Lee. Farmer committed to USC just hours before the opening kickoff.
And while Lee did catch three touchdown passes and Farmer one, the Eagles held Preston 97 yards below his season average to that point, on 55-percent accuracy — his worst game in that category all season.
In fact, after surveying his options at times, Preston left the pocket more frequently than he had all year, rushing nine times for 55 yards — 20 more than he’d accumulated all year over the first 13 games combined.
“We made them do things that they weren’t comfortable doing,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “They played well. They controlled the line of scrimmage.”
Richard took advantage of that.
The 5-foot-10, 183-pound senior, who has an offer from Cal Poly, got a season-high 24 carries, running for 168 yards and setting up Preston’s intermediate scoring passes.
After seeing the Eagles’ scheme early on, Farmer said to the Los Angeles Times that he told Richard, “If they do that, you’re going to have a big game. Keep pushing up the middle and run hard.”
The Cavaliers maintained clock-eating drives, in sharp contrast to their patented over-the-top, quick-strike approach that had been utilized the previous week.
“They were able to run the ball a little bit,” Goossen said, “but just how we schematically played against them (routinely trying to take away long passing plays), we knew that they’d be able to do that.”
Cavaliers coach Scott Altenberg told the Torrance Daily Breeze newspaper: “They said, ‘Hey, you’re going to run the ball if you’re going to win,’ so we said ‘OK,’ so that’s what we had to do. We still got throws in and we took our shots. I feel like we have enough guys that if they decide to do that, I’m not nervous about it. We’re not one-dimensional.”
As Goossen said after the game, neither PAC 7 team has anything to be ashamed of in their performances against the Cavaliers (14-0), a defending state champion that entered the week ranked No. 22 in the nation by MaxPreps and No. 24 by ESPN RISE.
Serra, a school whose student body is comprised of eight different Los Angeles communities in addition to Gardena, will likely be awarded another state bowl-game bid today, and will have another chance to extend its 29-game winning streak — the longest ongoing spree in California.
And for the most part to date, the PAC 7 can say it played Serra as tough as anyone else has.
Paso Robles (10-3) outscored the Cavaliers 13-0 in the second half of the semifinals, and the 23 points the Bearcats put up for the game were the most anyone has scored on Serra all year.
In somewhat reminiscent fashion, Arroyo Grande (11-3) scored evenly with Serra in the second half after falling behind big early.
Between the two, the average margin of defeat was nearly nine points less than in Serra’s other 12 games.
The school that gave Serra its biggest scare of the year, Chaminade Prep of West Hills (11-2), with a 35-21 close-call Nov. 5, was beaten by Arroyo Grande in the semifinals, 52-19.