GARDENA — Los Alamitos and Serra clashed Friday in arguably the most competitive bracket in the CIF-SS football playoffs.
Serra made a rare meeting between the schools a memorable one.
The host Cavaliers scored two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter and running back Cincere Rhaney rushed for 207 yards and two scores as they raced to 38-28 victory in the Division 2 quarterfinals at Serra High.
“They have grit,” Serra coach Scott Altenberg said of his team’s fourth-quarter play. “That’s a champion-type mentality.”
“With a team like (Los Alamitos),” the coach added, “you have to push them.”
No. 3-seeded Serra (9-3) advances to the semifinals next week to play Servite, which beat No. 2 Long Beach Poly 27-20 in another quarterfinal. The Cavaliers will be the home team.
Serra ended the game with questions about Rhaney’s status after he left late in the fourth quarter with an injury on a 42-yard run to the Los Alamitos 9 with 5:47 left.
“He’s walking now and he seems OK,” Altenberg said of the senior, who didn’t return. “He’s so tough.”
Los Alamitos (9-3) trailed 24-14 halftime but surged into the lead on a touchdown runs of 4 and 20 yards by quarterback Alonzo Esparza in the third quarter. The junior ran an up-tempo offense and helped the Griffins take their first lead at 28-24 lead with 3:56 left in the third.
Serra, however, responded on the first play of the fourth period with a tough, 37-yard TD catch in tight coverage by CJ Mcbean from junior quarterback Jimmy Butler. The strike capped a 72-yard scoring drive.
The Cavaliers then capitalized on the first turnover of the showdown to restore their 10-point lead. They recovered a fumble on a fake punt attempt at the Los Alamitos 34 and drove for a 1-yard TD run by Camron Harris-Willcot. Serra led 38-28 with 9:19 left.
On the fumble, the Griffins appeared to gain enough for the first down before Serra knocked the ball free.
“That’s the best team we’ve played this year,” Los Alamitos coach Ray Fenton said of Serra. “It shows the character of our kids to come back and be up 28-24. And it shows a good football team on their side. They do the same thing. They come back and battle back.
“Neither team, obviously, wanted to lose this game.”
One of the key matchups was Los Alamitos’ run defense against Rhaney.
The San Jose State commit came in with 1,671 yards and 20 TDs on the ground while the Griffins’ defense had allowed an average of only 64 yards rushing per game.
The theme surfaced in the first quarter as Rhaney broke an 80-yard TD run as Serra took a 14-7 lead. The burst along the sideline answered a second sack by Los Alamitos defensive lineman Andre Taylor.
Rhaney finished with 26 carries and teamed with Harris-Willcot to help Serra rush for 251 yards.
Serra extended its lead to 17-7 by opening the second quarter with a 43-yard field goal Mcbean, a junior.
Los Alamitos needed a spark, and found it with a trick play on special teams. Lenny Ibarra broke a 37-yard run a fake punt that led to a 1-yard TD run by Anthony League, who cut Serra’s lead to 17-14.
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