By Dick Dornan
MyBurbank Sports Editor
Hats off to the Burbank High football program after a historic and successful season. In spite of last night’s 28-21 loss to La Serna in the CIF Southeast Division semifinals at California High School, the Bulldogs have much to be proud of.
Burbank (10-3) went toe-to-toe, tackle-for-tackle and touchdown-for-touchdown against the favored Lancers. As one observer might say, “The Bulldogs didn’t lose; they just ran out of time.”
Tied at 21 to begin the fourth quarter, Burbank was a mere 12 minutes away from possibly reaching its first CIF championship game in school history.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be despite a valiant effort by the Bulldogs who came into the contest having won 10 games, a school-record.
La Serna began the winning drive on the Burbank 44-yard line with 3:12 remaining and methodically pounded away with its running game; chewing up yardage and valuable time off the clock.
Quarterback Frankie Palmer scored from four yards out with 23 seconds remaining to give the Lancers its first lead since early in the first quarter and what proved to be the winning score.
The odds were against Burbank from the very beginning. The Bulldogs’ lethal three-headed prong rushing attack of James Williams, Joseph Pendleton and Tony Toledo were non-factors in this postseason clash.
Toledo didn’t suit up, Pendleton (who gained 65 yards on six carries in the first half) did not play in the second half due to an injured shoulder and Williams was limited to 29 yards on 15 carries while playing on a sore ankle.
Yet, Burbank play inspired football the entire game behind quarterback Ryan Meredith, receiver Oharjee Brown and a tough-nosed defense that proved to be the best in the Pacific League.
“There’s no doubt the season has taken its toll on us. We are banged up. But we came out and still fought. We competed,” Burbank coach Hector Valencia said. “We made mistakes but we never gave up. We went out fighting to the very last play. I think we earned the respect from La Serna that we can compete. I don’t think teams will take us for granted. We have a lot to prove from now on.”
La Serna (11-2) struck first on an eight-play, 65-yard drive capped off on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Matthew Rosales.
The Bulldogs tied it at seven apiece when Pendleton scored from 45 yards out mid-way through the first quarter.
On the ensuing possession, the Lancers fumbled at midfield and Burbank took advantage of the miscue when Meredith (11 of 23 for 243 yards) connected with Brown (four catches for 141 yards) on a 49-yard touchdown toss.
Leading 14-7, Burbank looked to take a commanding lead on its first possession of the second quarter. A 43-yard pass from Meredith to Brown followed by back-to-back penalties on La Serna gave the Bulldogs first-and-goal.
Facing fourth-and-goal from the two, Meredith pushed his way to the one-yard line only to be held up by a stingy Lancers defense. Four tries from within the 10-yard line netted zero points.
Burbank had another opportunity to put points on the board on its next possession but Meredith didn’t see a wide-open Williams along the left sideline. Williams uncharacteristically dropped a pass a few possessions earlier that may have resulted in a touchdown.
With golden opportunities going by the wayside for BHS, it was a matter of time before La Serna made some noise.
Lancers cornerback D’Andre Sanchez tied the game when he intercepted a Meredith pass and returned it 33 yards for the score with 2:58 left in the first half.
What could have been a 21-7 Burbank lead or more in the first half ended in a 14-14 tie.
Burbank broke out to a 21-14 lead on the first possession of the second half when Brown caught a tipped pass off a Lancer defender and ran untouched for a 38-yard touchdown.
La Serna countered on its next possession with a seven-minute drive that ended when Palmer scored on fourth down on a two-yard naked bootleg to tie the game at 21.
The Bulldogs had another opportunity slip through their grasp when they missed a 28-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
Missed opportunities ultimately hurt the Bulldogs in the long run.
“We left points on the board. Little things like that. Could of, would of, should of; but no regrets,” Valencia said. “Our defense did an outstanding job preparing for them. Our offense had opportunities but that’s football. Looking at the film will break my heart with all the opportunities we had.”
Burbank battled all second half behind the inspired play of freshman linebacker Andy Reyes who consistently disrupted the high-powered La Serna offense along with senior teammates Sebby Santoro and Andy Park.
But the Lancers made just enough plays to advance to the CIF Finals where they will play No. 1 seed Norwalk.
“I know we can compete at this level. We know where we are at and where we want to go,” Valencia said. “We can compete at this level. Before it was like a hypothetical thing. Now it’s reality. We’re here and I think we are going to come back. The future is bright for us. Our guys left it all out there. Everything we gave was 100 percent.”
Valencia praised his senior class one last time.
“They won league championships as freshmen, JV’s and they were competitive for us,” he said. “I’m proud of what they accomplished this year. Throughout their four years in the program they have accomplished a lot. I’m very proud of them.”
In 2009, Valencia’s first year as coach, Burbank won its first league title since 1972 and advanced to the CIF quarterfinals where they lost to host California High School. Now in 2013, the Bulldogs took the next step and reached the CIF semifinals for the first time in school history.
With Williams, Meredith and Reyes returning next season, Burbank will have every opportunity to reach the finals in 2014 and continue its historic march through the BHS football record books.