Prep football: Young teams get big chance in state bowl games

The Lake Balboa Birmingham football players lined up on Saturday night to collect their City Section Open Division championship trophy at Valley College.

Amid the celebrations, it was a challenge to find the number 26 boy, who had made his way for 292 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 49-13 Garfield loss. A teammate eventually found him.

My first question was very simple: Where are you from?

“I kind of came out of the blue,” he said.

Naiim Morgan wasn’t kidding.

He showed up before football season started after moving from Las Vegas. Coach Jim Rose told him he was overweight and too slow to play receiver. He volunteered to play scout team running back at 5ft 11 and 196lbs. Since then, he’s lost nearly 20 pounds, gained speed, and the rest is history.

In the last two playoff games, he has put up 215 yards and a touchdown against Wilmington Banning and 292 yards and four touchdowns against Garfield to help the Patriots win their third straight City Section Open Division championship. And you want to know what’s best of all?

“It’s great that we still have a week to play,” said Morgan. “It will be fun.”

The CIF State Championship Bowl pairings were announced Sunday. Any section master may participate. There are 55 in the state in 15 divisions. For previously unknown players like Morgan and young players who are timing their games up a notch, this is another opportunity to gain attention and exposure for future endeavors.

Birmingham will open at home Saturday and host Laguna Hills (13-1) in a regional 3-A bowl game. Laguna Hills has its own top running back in Troy Leigber, who rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns in the Southern Section Division 7 title game against Santa Clarita Golden Valley.

No team is better than Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, who won the Southern Section Division 2 championship on Saturday night by beating previously undefeated Inglewood 23-7 behind second running back Dane Dunn, the co-Mission League MVP.

Sierra Canyon used to be 1-3. Birmingham used to be 1-4. They are now 10-4 and 9-4 respectively, with possibly two more game weeks to go. Both are young teams that are improving every week and creating excitement among their fanbases. Sierra Canyon opens Friday night at home in the Division 1-AA regional bowl game against San Diego Section champion Lincoln (11-1) and star running back Roderick Robinson.

Lincoln lost the second game of the season to Mission Hills Bishop Alemany 14-7. Sierra Canyon defeated Bishop Alemany 42-0 in league play. The winner will face either Concord De La Salle or Folsom on December 9th.

The Open Division state championship game is set. Southern Section Division 1 Champion Bellflower St. John Bosco (12-1) meets Central Coast Section Champion San Mateo Serra (13-0) on December 10 at 8 p.m. at Saddleback College.

The Braves will be big favorites but Serra coach Patrick Walsh promises: “It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever coached. I will ride with these guys. I know everyone wants to be here and will give it their all.”

Undefeated Yorba Linda (14-0) was seeded into the regional A-Bowl game that hosted Bakersfield Liberty on Saturday night.

It remains to be seen how competitive some of these matchups will be.

At this time next season Sierra Canyon could be mentioned with St. John Bosco and Santa Ana Mater Dei. Someone has to take up the challenge, so why not the young and improving Trailblazers?

This was to be the year Birmingham were beaten in the City Section for their youth. Morgan, a senior, has rushed for 1,000 yards. Offensive coordinator Andrew Miramontes was dizzy as he watched him run away from Garfield defenders.

“Wait a minute — where’s that breakaway speed coming from?” he said.

Garfield coach Lorenzo Hernandez said: “We found he was very physical, powerful and had all the qualities that a running back should have. He has a lot of stamina and keeps coming back to you.”

State Bowl games aren’t just about winning more trophies and plaques. They’re another opportunity to create a memory that will last a lifetime and might even catch the attention of a college recruiter.

Hernandez warns Birmingham opponents: “They’ve been turning it on for the last five weeks.” Prep football: Young teams get big chance in state bowl games

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