The teams in Saturday night’s CIF Southern California Division 3-A regional championship bowl game were mirror images of each other. Both were nicknamed the Patriots, both were riding eight-game winning streaks and both were led by a game-changing player capable of scoring every time he touched the ball.
The difference was in the trenches, where Lake Balboa Birmingham imposed its will and wore down host San Diego Patrick Henry en route to a 42-35 victory that earned the City Section Open Division champions a spot in Saturday’s state bowl championship game against Oakland McClymonds (11-1).
All season, Birmingham relied on the size, speed and athleticism of wideout Arlis Boardingham, and the senior proved to be too strong for Henry. Four plays after climbing the ladder to haul in a 35-yard pass, he took a direct snap in the wildcat formation, swept left and shook off two defenders for a six-yard touchdown to give Birmingham a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Midway through the third quarter, Boardingham took a handoff, bounced off two defenders and carried another into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown that made it 35-28. He had four catches and also played stellar defense.
Birmingham (9-5) continued its impressive run since dropping its first five games, all to Southern Section opponents. Birmingham had given up a total of 14 points in its three City playoff games and appeared to be on its way to another blowout, but the 35 points surrendered was the team’s most since a 44-0 shutout by Westlake Village Oaks Christian on Sept. 24.
A key to success for Birmingham was containing electrifying tailback Elijah Lux, who began the night with 1,903 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. He was averaging 10.8 yards per carry but was held to 44 yards in the first half. He finished with over 140 in 30 carries.
Trailing 28-7 at halftime, the San Diego Section Division IV champions did not give up. Quarterback Malachai Gitman connected with Omar Hammond for a 23-yard strike on Henry’s first possession of the third quarter.
Lux scored on a 14-yard run late in the third quarter, receiver Jeremiah Symington caught a 41-yard touchdown pass less than two minutes later, and Lux powered over the goal line from one yard to tie it 35-35 with 9:31 left in the game.
Delamonte Barnes finished with 140 yards in 28 carries, including a three-yard run that regained the lead for Birmingham, 42-35, with 5:09 left.
Henry (10-3) marched to the Birmingham 37, but free safety Tim Jackson intercepted a pass in the end zone with 2:19 left.
On the ensuing drive, Barnes burrowed for six yards on fourth and two from the Birmingham 28 with 1:27 left to give the visitors a first down that allowed them to run out the clock.
Quarterback David Jordan-Oliveros ended Birmingham’s first drive of the game with a one-yard run and threw for over 200 yards.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.