Mission Prep’s football team is returning to the CIF-Southern Section division finals to try to finish off what it couldn’t quite accomplish last year.
The Royals (11-2) won 51-30 Friday over Desert of Edwards Air Force Base (10-3) in a Northeast Division home semifinal game.
The Royals, as they have all season, went to their workhorse running back, Patrick Laird, to carry them offensively.
Laird rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns and caught a nifty pass from sophomore quarterback Patrick Miller for a 13-yard score to the back corner of the end zone in the second half.
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Miller added an 85-yard completion to Evan Talbert, who put a juke on the Scorpions’ defensive back, stutter-stepping and then sprinting up the sideline for a big-play score on one-on-one coverage.
Laird had touchdown runs of 31, 48, and 67 yards while taking advantage of an aggressive Desert defense for punishing gains.
“They attack, attack, attack consistently on defense,” Royals coach Chad Henry said. “That led to a lot of big plays for us. We established the running game and then we started to get the passing game going later on.”
Mission Prep will return to the Los Angeles area to try to bring home its division title — this time to play Salesian High, which won 35-20 Friday over last year’s Northeast Division champion, Rio Hondo Prep.
The Royals played Salesian in the playoffs last year and won, 54-26.
“Salesian has some extremely athletic, fast players who have been recruited by Division I schools,” Henry said. “We’ll have to do a better job of tackling against them than we did tonight.”
Against Desert, the Royals got off to a dead even start after the first quarter, and they seemed to be in for a dogfight against a spread offense that spaces linemen to create gaps for the running game.
Standout quarterback Matthew Moore connected with Logan Lukenbill for a 45-yard pass at 5:46 to tie the score at 14.
But for the next two quarters, Mission Prep played lock-down defense, particularly in the secondary.
Laird, who also plays safety, intercepted Moore at 11:21 in the fourth with Mission Prep ahead 34-14 and Desert threatening on the drive.
To seal the game, Bailey Hungerford picked off a pass from Moore after the Scorpions had converted some scores to pull the game to a 51-30 margin — some of that with the Royals’ backups in the game.
“We really watched a lot of game tape on them,” Laird said. “I think we have a great secondary with Calvin Levisay, Hungerford, Talbert, and we were able to keep them in check.”
Laird said Desert was stacking the box with nine players and focusing on the outside. So, the offensive line adjusted after the first quarter and started blocking to create gaps up the middle. That’s when Laird really started to see some holes and then daylight to show off his speed in front of a holiday crowd of about 400.
Now, the mission for Mission Prep is one step away.
“I think if we play good, fundamental football and run downhill, we’ll be fine (against Salesian),” Laird said.
West Hills Chaminade 49, Lompoc 14
The Braves saw their season end with a loss in the Western Division semifinals.
Tribune staff contributed to this report.