After stumbling early, the Burroughs High football eventually found its stride, righted the ship and coasted to an impressive 47-21 Pacific League win over rival Burbank in the 67th “Big Game” on Friday night at Memorial Field before a capacity crowd.
The Indians buzzed through league play unscathed at 7-0, and closed out the regular season with a 9-1 record. This was the first time since 2006 that Burroughs has posted such gaudy numbers and its first league title since 2011.
What awaits is who the Indians, ranked No. 5 in the Southeast Division, will play in the CIF Southern Section playoffs next Friday. The opponent will be announced on Sunday.
Had the Bulldogs (6-4 and 5-2 league) prevailed, they would have shared the league title with the Indians, but instead finished in second place with Crescenta Valley.
In unlikely fashion, Burroughs fell behind 14-0, but then scored 40 unanswered points before allowing a late touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“We had a great game plan,” Burroughs coach Keith Knoop said. “It’s like a chess match. We were going to go where the defense led us.”
Knoop also spoke about being down two touchdowns, but wasn’t rattled. “On that first touchdown, it was a miscoverage. On the second touchdown, it was a great catch,” he said.
Once the Indians starting clicking on offense, it was pedal to the medal as senior quarterback Steven Hubbell tossed five touchdowns, including three in the first half.
The ground game churned out 208 yards and was led by junior tailback Chance Bell, who injured his shoulder in last week’s 34-3 victory over Crescenta Valley when the Indians were assured of a share of the league crown.
Bell accounted for a game-high 165 yards on 20 carries that included a 76-yard sprint with 10:07 left in the third quarter that gave the Indians a 26-14 lead.
On Burbank’s third series, junior quarterback Guy Gibbs moved the Bulldogs into the end zone on three plays that covered 40 yards, and capped the march with a 54-yard strike to junior wide receiver Forest Fajardo and 5:01 left in the opening quarter for a 7-0 lead.
The Bulldogs increased their lead to 14-0 when Gibbs drilled senior wide receiver Max Weisman with a 37-yard rocket and 1:42 left in the initial quarter.
“We had too many mental errors that we’re going to have to clean up,” said Weisman, who snared seven passes for 82 yards. “We can’t afford to make mistakes. Overall, it was a poor team effort. But this game is behind us and we’re looking forward to the playoffs.”
An onside kick was attempted and recovered by the Bulldogs, and it traveled the required 10 yards, but it didn’t bounce as required at the high school level. So instead of keeping the ball, a penalty was accessed and the Indians took over at their 45-yard line.
Burroughs, which holds a 42-25 series lead over Burbank, responded 17 seconds later with a one-play, 55-yard bomb from Hubbell to senior wide receiver Robert Awunganyi that cut the lead to 14-7.
“We wanted to come out and punch them in the mouth and they punched us in the mouth,” said Hubbell, who connected on 17 of 28 pass attempts for 265 yards. “There were some down faces, but I tried to remain calm and collected.”
Hubbell expects the Indians to do well in the playoffs. “This is a new season and we need a different focus,” he said.
The Indians (473 total net yards) moved within 14-13 when Hubbell directed Burroughs on a 65-yard, four-play march that was capped off when he found senior wide receiver Erick Hernandez with a 39-yard laser and 3:54 left before the half.
“We prepared very well this week and we stepped it up,” said Hernandez, who had three catches for 72 yards. “It’s just another step for us. We’ve just got to believe.”
Hernandez also addressed the early 14-0 deficit. “Those touchdowns were our mistakes,” he said. “But we came out energized after that.”
The Bulldogs (291 total yards) had a chance to increase their lead on a 40-yard field goal by senior Andrew Hank. But Burbank was penalized five yards and the kick was a 45-yarder that fell several yards short.
“We sputtered offensively and defensively,” Burbank coach Richard Broussard said. “We didn’t finish the game. We didn’t execute and we were sloppy. They made more big plays than we did.”
Broussard said the Bulldogs have been playing for their playoff lives several weeks. “We’ve been playing playoff games since the loss [21-20] to Muir,” he said.
With 21 seconds left before the half, Hubbell directed his team 70 yards and closed the drive with a 13-yard bullet to senior wide receiver Cade Borland (game-best 93 yards on eight catches), who was alone in the end zone as the Indians seized control, 19-14.
The points continued for the Indians who marched from their own 40-yard line and finalized the 11-play excursion with a two-yard toss from Hubbell to senior wide receiver Nick Mercado with 2:52 showing in the third quarter that made it 33-14.
When Burroughs’ stingy defense stopped Gibbs for no gain on fourth and one, Hubbell needed one play in order to locate Awunganyi (91 yards on three receptions) with a 32-yard pass and 7:31 left in the fourth quarter that made it 40-14.
Senior running back Ash Hawkins (25 yards on four carries) scored the final points for Burroughs on a 31-yard run that made it 47-21 with 15.7 seconds left.
Two possessions later, Gibbs and senior wide receiver Noah Powell (32 yards on two catches) hooked up on a 24-yard bomb and 3:08 left in the fourth quarter, but it was simply too little, too late.
The Bulldogs, who had a three-game winning streak against the Indians, were held to 87 yards on the ground and were led by sophomore running back Blake Quinteros, who had 63 yards on 12 carries.
“I think we were too confident we were going to win when we had the lead,” said Gibbs, who hit 16 of 27 for 204 yards and one interception by Awunganyi. “But we couldn’t execute. We still have four more weeks left in the season.”