It was shock and awe in the City Section Open Division championship football game Saturday night at Valley College, with Lake Balboa Birmingham providing most of the entertainment.
As if anyone needs more evidence that the surging Patriots (9-4) have reached peak form, they pummeled Garfield for five touchdowns on their first five possessions for a five-touchdown halftime lead. By the fourth quarter, there was a running clock. Birmingham came away with a 49-13 victory.
It is the third consecutive Open Division championship for coach Jim Rose, whose team has won 34 consecutive games against City Section opponents.
Senior running back Naiim Morgan, supported by an exceptional offensive line, had a first half to remember. He rushed for 225 yards in 13 carries and scored three touchdowns. At nearly 200 pounds, he was too big, too fast and too strong for the overwhelmed Bulldog defenders. He finished with 292 yards in 16 carries and scored four touchdowns.
The Patriots attempted just one pass in the first 23 minutes, and it went for a 70-yard touchdown from Kingston Tisdell to Peyton Waters. The Patriots rushed for more than 400 yards on the night.
"The younger players are supposed to get better every week and they are," Rose said. "There's no reason we can't play better next week. We're way better than we were months ago."
After a 35-0 halftime lead, Birmingham lost some interest in the third quarter and Garfield scored on a 16-yard touchdown run by Damian Cornejo. That's when the Patriots decided to ask Morgan for a little help. He proceeded to break off runs of 38 and 27 yards, resulting in his fourth touchdown of the night.
The Patriots have become almost Narbonne-like in their domination of City Section opponents, though with a big difference. They haven't produced the quantity of college prospects the Gauchos were turning out from 2014-18 in winning every upper-division championship until having to vacate the 2018 title because of an ineligible player. What Birmingham has is quality.
This was supposed to be the year Birmingham would be beatable with Arlis Boardingham off to Florida and lots of sophomores and juniors in the lineup. But once the Patriots made it past Venice in a double-overtime thriller in the opening game of the Open Division playoffs, they have blown out the competition.
Morgan has been a star with his determined running. He moved here from Las Vegas, was supposed to be a receiver, lost weight and became a running back.
"The linemen were doing their things, and I was connecting," Morgan said.
The Patriots are also tackling well, getting solid play from Tisdell at quarterback and hinting that their best days are ahead with only six seniors in starting roles. They went 1-4 in nonleague games against Southern Section opponents, but that was a long time ago and the state playoffs that begin next week will be an intriguing test to see how well they will do against non-City Section opponents.
Lorenzo Hernandez, in his 25th season, has been steering the Bulldogs to look for success beyond their yearly rival game with Roosevelt. He had been waiting for this group of underclassmen. They had been playing youth football together and there was only one senior in the starting lineup, an indication Garfield (10-3) will be back for a rematch next season.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.