Before last week’s quarterfinal victory, Mission Prep injured senior receiver Trevor Fernandez gave an inspirational speech.
“He said, ‘Play every play like it’s your last,’ ” senior running back Patrick Laird said. “I had that in the back of my mind during the game.”
Laird, Mission Prep’s standout ball carrier, rushed for 319 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 2,810 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns this season. He also caught a 58-yard scoring pass.
And the Royals won 41-16 over St. Genevieve in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division playoffs — the same team they narrowly beat 36-33 earlier in the season.
The Royals (10-2) move on to host Desert (10-2), of Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster, tonight at 7:30 at Mission Prep in the semifinals.
After losing 28-21 to Rio Hondo Prep last year in the division final — a score that remains scrawled in their locker room for extra motivation — the Royals are now one win away from a return to the title game.
“A lot of people didn’t think we’d be where we are right now,” Laird said. “I think that has motivated us to get back to the semifinals and the championship game.”
Royals players and coach Chad Henry considered it a privilege to practice on Thanksgiving with the chance of continuing their season tonight.
A home game on the holiday weekend also means alumni and their families will be in attendance to add to the energy of the event.
In addition to Laird’s big game last week, sophomore quarterback Patrick Miller put together a 6-for-12 passing night for 140 yards and a touchdown.
Miller has thrown 11 touchdowns since his last interception and has 20 touchdown passes and six interceptions on the season, recording 1,138 yards through the air.
Despite Miller’s inconsistencies at times, Henry said he has confidence in his young quarterback to lead the team.
“He has been up and down at times this season, but Miller is our guy,” Henry said. “I made that decision before the season. He learns from his mistakes, and I have faith in him.”
Miller said he and Henry, a former Cal Poly quarterback, have developed a close bond.
“Chad has really helped me,” Miller said. “We’ve bonded. The team has bonded. As the year has gone on, the offense has come together. And the defense has too.”
Desert will present an unusual offensive set-up this week with linemen spaced apart to help create gaps and one-on-one matchups in the open field.
Their offensive statistics are dominated by their quarterback, Matthew Moore, who has tallied 2,011 yards passing and 533 yards rushing. Moore’s main target is Chad Gleason with 1,117 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
And running back Logan Lukenbill has racked up 2,047 yards and 25 touchdowns.
“They don’t have a big line, and so that’s why they play the way they do,” Henry said. “It’s a read-option offense.”
On offense, Mission Prep will be prepared to face an aggressive, blitzing Desert defense with some possible overloading of the defensive line to one side.
“It’s pretty simple,” Henry said. “If they overload, we’ll run the other way.”
The unsung hero in all of Laird’s success this season has been the offensive line — a group has gelled under offensive line coach Rich Seubert, who played on the New York Giants offensive line in the NFL and won a Super Bowl.
Henry said the offensive line and Laird dedicated itself to the weight room. The linemen have voluntarily flipped large tires and dragged heavy objects with chains up the hill at the high school field.
“When your guys are coming up and asking you what they can do to get better, you know you have a good group,” Henry said. “…Patrick Laird is closing in on 3,000 yards rushing this season, and I don’t care what level of football that is. That’s phenomenal.”
Laird has grown into his role as a runner who patiently finds his blockers, hits the hole hard, and bounces to the outside hoping to bust loose for big gains.
He has rushed for at least 100 yards in every game this season, and, the 6-foot, 205-pound back who has had preliminary talks with Cal Poly about playing football for the Mustangs, has rushed for 300 or more yards in three contests.
Evan Talbert leads the Royals with 466 receiving yards and provides a valuable red zone option to counter defenses that expect a Laird run. Of Talbert’s 28 receptions, 14 have been touchdowns.
Some of the seniors in particular have talked about not wanting their season to end early, Henry said.
Fernandez broke his collarbone and isn’t expected to play again this season. He has provided an emotional spark on the sideline.
“This group has been through a lot — injuries and a tough, blowout loss to start the season,” Henry said. “They’re an emotional group. They’re also a funny, loose group. We go to bat for each other.”