By Dick Dornan
myBurbank Sports Editor
The next chapter of Burbank football has officially begun.
With senior James Williams sidelined for the rest of the season because of a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee, the Burbank High football team took to the field for the first time since 2011 without the services of its superstar tailback.
The Bulldogs battled all evening long but shortcomings on both sides of the ball during the third and early fourth quarter proved to be the difference as Canyon pulled away and defeated Burbank, 35-21, Friday night at Harry Welch Field.
“I thought our kids fought hard. We battled. We represented Burbank to the fullest. I’m proud of them,” Burbank coach Richard Broussard said. “We have a long season ahead of us. We have things that we need to clean up. We just didn’t make enough plays. We made some plays just not enough. We have some things to work on but we had heart tonight.”
Williams’ high school career was ended prematurely when he suffered the injury on the opening kickoff against Bell Gardens two weeks ago. He finished his sparkling two-year run as the area’s best running back with 2,612 yards which ranks him second all-time at BHS just 466 yards behind Ulises Ochoa.
Williams, who has committed to Washington State University, scored 40 career touchdowns slicing and dicing his way through defenses.
With Williams now a spectator on the sideline yelling and cheering his teammates on, the Bulldogs will have to collectively rely on each other to have a productive and positive season.
When asked if the shock of losing Williams had an effect on the game, Broussard vehemently said no.
“Heck no. We were the most hyped we’ve ever been. Our guys were excited about this game,” he said. “I’m sure people were shocked how well we played against this team. We have some tough little scrappy kids from Burbank.”
The first half was well played as both teams exchanged touchdowns to enter halftime tied at 14 apiece.
Canyon (2-2) began the scoring with a 53-yard catch and run to the house on the third play of the game.
Burbank (2-1) tied it a seven when senior quarterback Ryan Meredith snuck in from one yard out with 3:12 left in the first quarter.
Early in the second period, the Bulldogs took advantage of a Canyon penalty on fourth down (illegal participation) and kept its drive going when Brandon Alba scored on a fly sweep from four yards. A 32-yard pass from Meredith to Dorian Houshoulder sparked the drive.
Burbank maintained a 14-7 lead until Canyon’s Myron McAfee burst through the Bulldogs defense en route to a 77 yard touchdown run that sent the teams into the locker room deadlocked at 14.
The Bulldogs went into a funk for the next quarter-and-a-half with penalties, poor tackling and an inept offense that allowed Canyon to take a commanding 35-14 lead with 6:29 left in the game.
Reality had set in that Williams was no longer on the field to make the big play. For the first time in the game, Bulldog players appeared lost and in need of a spark.
“We’re so used to making big plays that we were getting complacent because 21 (Williams) wasn’t out there to hit the home run,” Broussard said. “Ryan had to grind this thing out. We will take what they give us and move the ball.”
Meredith, who completed 18 of 27 for 174 yards, was his own worst enemy in the third quarter throwing an interception and multiple incompletions while visibly getting down on himself.
“Ryan is his own worst critic. He’s hard on himself,” Broussard said. “But he was slinging it on that last drive.”
And sling it he did completing seven of eight passes for 91 yards on Burbank’s final drive which culminated when Tony Toledo scored from a yard out to make it 35-21 with 2:31 remaining in the contest.
Toledo rushed for 73 yards on 15 carries. Houshoulder caught six passes for 101 yards. But there was no escaping the fact that Williams’ absence, now permanent, had an effect on the team emotionally and physically.
“We definitely wanted to go out and play hard for James because he’s my brother,” Houshoulder said. “I’ve been playing with him since freshman year. I love him to death. I want to show him that we can still ball out.”
“We have a lot to play for this season,” Toledo added. “James was our best player but we have to all step up now. We’re going to miss him but it’s up to us now to make it happen. We just have to play hard all game and we can do it.”
Burbank plays at Pasadena (1-2) next Friday in its Pacific League opener at 7 p.m.