Birmingham advances to City Open Division football final with rout of Banning

First there was Mason White blocking kicks, making interceptions and catching touchdowns as the best player in the City Section in 2019. Then there was Arlis Boardingham making tackles, catching passes and doing everything as the best player in the City Section in 2021. They helped Lake Balboa Birmingham High blitz through its City opponents.

The Patriots have the City Section’s best player again in junior receiver-cornerback Peyton Waters, who is helping expand on a 33-game unbeaten streak against City opponents.

“He’s next guy up after Mason and Arlis,” coach Jim Rose said. “The kids look up to him now. Last year he was more of a role player. Now he’s the guy we look to. If he does well, we’re going to do well.”

Waters caused major problems for Wilmington Banning in the Open Division semifinals Friday night. He caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Kingston Tisdell, then scored on a blocked punt in the first quarter. Birmingham (7-4) went on to a dominant 42-7 road victory to earn a trip to the championship game Saturday at Valley College.

At a still growing 6 feet 2 and 170 pounds, Waters is giving college recruiters something to think about — whether he’s better as a cornerback or receiver. The same predicament happened with Boardingham last season (he’s now a tight end at Florida).

“Waters is definitely their stud,” Banning coach Raymond Grajeda said,

Birmingham knocked Banning out of the playoffs last season and defeated the 12-time City champions in the 2019 final. This Banning team offered a different challenge. Gone was the grind-it-out team, replaced by an offense that can pass the ball with quarterback Robert Guerrero. But the Patriots’ defense got a fourth-down sack from Maynor Morales in the first half and never looked back, opening a 28-7 halftime lead.

The Patriots’ young but improving offensive line, led by brothers Nick and Bo Tonga, kept punishing the Pilots, clearing the way for running backs Morgan Naiim and Ronnell Hewitt, each of whom scored two touchdowns. Naiim rushed for 215 yards in 20 carries and had a 66-yard touchdown run to start the third quarter. Hewitt, a freshman, had 80 yards rushing.

“The line played great,” Rose said. “There were holes all night for the running backs. They should buy them dinner.”

Thanksgiving dinner next week will never taste better for Birmingham after they earned the right to practice on Thursday morning, then enjoy turkey legs, stuffing and mashed potatoes in the evening in preparation for playing in another Open Division final.

Birmingham started the season losing four of its first five against Southern Section opponents, then did its usual turnaround against City Section teams, though the closeness of some scores had people wondering if the Patriots could really make another title run. Last week’s double overtime win over No. 2-seeded Venice gave the No. 7 Patriots a huge boost in confidence.

They were never threatened Friday night and with continued improvement, they’re a year ahead of their expected progress considering the team is filled with underclassmen in starting roles.

Ace Acosta and Jojo Adams had interceptions for Birmingham.

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