By Tom Crowther
BurbankNBeyond Sports Editor
As Los Altos rallied from a two touchdown halftime deficit to upset Burroughs High on Friday, November 18, I couldn’t help but think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. When it comes to the CIF Southern Section playoffs things have rarely been “just right” in Indian Country.
From the early 1990s to the middle of the last decade, Burroughs and Burbank High Schools’ football teams had it rough going-up against former Foothill foes Hart, Saugus, Canyon and eventually Valencia highs. It was a low point for Burbank football which we won’t revisit for this column, but Burroughs did find some limited success in a league of perennial powers.
In 1997, a team led by quarterback JK Scott finished second to Hart with an 8-2 record but even they were one and done in the playoffs. In other years, the Indians were a fifth place team in the league but their record and strength of schedule was usually good enough for an at-large playoff berth. Problem was, the Indians would draw impossible tasks in the post season.
There was the 2004 draw against Mission Viejo when current NFL star Mark Sanchez came to town in the first round and a decade before future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez and his Huntington Beach High School welcomed the Indians and head coach Gary Bernardi. The ten years in-between also featured some incredibly difficult draws as well.
Since moving to the Pacific League the bracket has been kinder to the Indians, who are now usually a top seed instead of an at-large seed, but the results haven’t been much better with only one playoff win since 2006.
Sometimes it has been tough match-ups or tough draws, sometimes it has been tough luck. Last week it was a case of the latter as penalties did in the Indians. Up two touchdowns with the best running back in the area in their backfield, the Indians seemed poised to advance in the playoffs for only the second time since 1987.
Zander Anding did his thing, gaining 216 yards on only 15 carries and breaking off another long TD run, but he had almost as many yards called back by penalties. A usually stingy defense surrendered four scores in the second half and once again the Indians could only shake their heads and wonder what went wrong.
One could argue that the Pacific League does not prepare the team adequately for the post season. That proved to be a fallacy though when Arcadia and Pasadena won convincingly in their opening round games last week. Even Muir, the recipients of an at-large berth, won in dominate fashion over Santa Fe. Although Crescenta Valley lost, it was by a respectable score of 35-30 to La Mirada.
Besides, Burroughs coach Keith Knoop had made sure his team would be prepared for a playoff run by playing nonleague games against his former Foothill rivals Saugus, Canyon and Hart high earlier this year.
The Indians were battle tested road warriors this season, having played every game on the road due to construction on Memorial Field. They had an epic ground game in Anding who ran behind an all-senior offensive line. They had an unheralded but underrated defense that had been coached-up by Knoop to be in the right place and to make a fundamentally sound tackle. They appeared to be a team capable of a run.
Another argument could have been made that they lacked much of an air arsenal, but that didn’t figure to be issue until later rounds. It certainly didn’t slow their ground game down last week as not only did Anding average 14 yards per carry. Quarterback Brad Hunt even added a pair of TD runs.
So what is it that has caused Burroughs so must frustration post-Veteran’s Day each year? Honestly, it is just one of those inexplicable things. The type of things that local media write about the next week and that the next Burroughs team will vow to conquer the next season. It is a fluke and not much more.
Although it was a bitter way for the Indians to end this season, it shouldn’t take away from the accomplishments of a third-straight league championship, something that had only been done once before in the program’s history.
There will be some rebuilding ahead for the Indians, who lose 31 of 48 players to graduation this year, but bet on Knoop to find a way for another crack at it in the postseason again next season. At some point things will turn and things will be just right.