WEST HILLS -- It took quite a while for the Serra High football team to get its vaunted offense started. But once the unit finally figured things out, Chaminade had little chance.
Entering the fourth quarter Friday night, the visiting Cavaliers trailed by a touchdown. However, they scored 21 unanswered points the rest of the way to defeat the upset-minded Eagles, 35-21, and take over sole possession of first place in the Mission League.
"Chaminade gave us a scare, I can tell you that much,'' Serra coach Scott Altenberg said. "It took us a little while to get our offense going, but once we finally found our comfort zone, they couldn’t stop us. Once we started clicking, it was pretty much over.’’
Serra (9-0, 4-0), No . 5 in ESPNLosAngeles.com's Top 25 rankings, trailed for a majority of the first three quarters. As for the Eagles (8-1, 3-1), No. 24 in ESPNLA poll, they played with inspiration and created some doubt in the minds of their heavily favored opponent.
In the fourth quarter, Marqise Lee made sure to change of all that though. He scored on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Conner Preston to give Serra a 28-21 advantage with 3:25 left.
Any hopes Chaminade might have had at making an improbable comeback were all but ruined when Shaquille Richard scored on an 8-yard run to extend the lead to 35-21 with 1:54 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Eagles were demoralized, to be sure.
The Serra offense stood on the sidelines for a majority of the third quarter as Chaminade focused its efforts on the running game. Chewing up time on the clock was the goal and the Eagles were successful.
Terrell Newby and Devon Lee helped Chaminade move the ball down to the Cavaliers 3-yard line. Ultimately, the drive ended up stalling when Newby was stopped on a fourth-and 1.
In retrospect, perhaps Chaminade should have let kicker Matt Goudis attempt a field goal to possibly extend its lead to 10 points because the decision not to proved to be rather costly.
“Hindsight is 20/20, we wanted the victory, that’s how we play,’’ Chaminade coach Ed Croson said. “Give our kids credit, they played their hearts out against a tough team. We could’ve stuck our tail in between our legs and gone home, but we gave them everything they could handle tonight.’’
Serra took over deep in its own territory, and minutes later, George Farmer scored on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Preston to tie the score, 21-21, with 8:15 left.
“We came out rough and they took advantage,’’ Farmer said. “Once we figured things out, we sealed the deal.’’
Chaminade opened the second half with sense of urgency. Newby took an inside handoff and turned what appeared to be a minimal gain into a 57-yard touchdown run to give the Eagles a 21-14 lead with 9:00 left in the third quarter.
The Serra offense was rather quiet in the first half. That is, until the final minute of the second quarter. Lee scored on a 76-yard touchdown pass from Preston with :54 left as the teams went into intermission tied 14-14.
"We might have underestimated them a little, but there was no doubt about us being able to comeback,'' Lee said. "We knew what we needed to do and went and handled our business.''
For as well as the Eagles played in the first quarter, they struggled in the second quarter. Logan Scott threw a pair of interceptions, to Lee and Louis Murray, but the Cavaliers failed to scored both times they received the ball back.
Chaminade appeared poised to extend its lead toward the latter stages of the second quarter after Erik Jhocson stepped in front of a Preston pass and returned the interception to the Serra 47-yard line with 2:40 left in the first half. Unfortunately, the Eagles couldn‘t find a way to put points on the board.
Normally conservative, the Eagles were the complete opposite early on in the game and the aggressiveness paid off when they converted a two fourth-and-short opportunities. First, Newby gained two tough yards. Then, Scott picked up five yards to keep the drive alive and move the ball into Serra territory.
Minutes later, Chaminade made sure to capitalize on the gutsy play-calling. On a third-and-4, Scott dropped back to pass before deciding to scramble for an 11-yard touchdown run. The instinctive play capped an eight-plus minute drive and gave Chaminade an 7-0 lead with 3:49 left in the first quarter.
The Cavaliers responded, Richard in particular. Initially, he was on the receiving end of a 14-yard pass play from Preston. On the next play, he scored on a 66-yard run to tie the score, 7-7, with 2:59 remaining in the first quarter.
With 2:34 left on the first quarter clock, Serra was surprised once again when Chaminade decided to go with a play action pass and throw the ball vertically. And accordingly, Scott connected with Will Noonan on an 81-yard pass play as the Eagles regained the lead, 14-7 with 2:34 left in the first quarter.
Preston was 11 of 18 for 298 yards. Richard ended up with 131 yards on 11 carries. Lee added 187 yards on four catches. Farmer finished with 78 yard on four receptions.
Scott finished 3 of 10 for 96 yards. Newby had 115 yards on 25 carries.