Laguna Hills defeats Birmingham in a 3-A regional bowl match

More than 90 minutes before Saturday night’s Division 3-A regional football match at Lake Balboa Birmingham, Laguna Hills’ Troy Leigber was in his own little world chilling and sweating as he moved around the pitch alone. It’s what a senior with a 4.4 GPA and a distinguished work ethic does to prepare for what could be his last game in high school.

He’s the Hawks’ star running back, with 2,337 yards and 39 touchdowns on Saturday. Birmingham manager Jim Rose knew what his team would face.

“He’s the real deal,” Rose said before the game. “He’s tall and has good balance. If we can’t attack it, we’re going to have a long night.

It was a long night against Leigber, who ran for three touchdowns and scored another on a kickoff return to send the Hawks (14-1) to a 35-28 win. He finished with 121 rushing yards on 28 carries.

“He’s the engine that makes this machine work,” coach John Lester said. “He’s special.”

A Sam Stark sack of Birmingham quarterback Kingston Tisdell with 44 seconds left on fourth down at the Laguna Hills 35 earned the win. Laguna Hills will advance to face San Jose Bellarmine in the 3-A Finals in Northern California next Saturday.

Laguna Hills had the ball three times in the first half and each drive ended with a Leigber touchdown.

He had touchdowns in the first half on runs for 11, 1 and 19 yards. He gained 94 yards on 20 carries. Laguna Hills held a 21-14 halftime lead. Birmingham received touchdowns from running back Naiim Morgan on a 43-yard run and from Peyton Waters on a 21-yard touchdown reception.

The Patriots decided to adopt Laguna Hills’ grinding style to start the second half, using nearly eight minutes to score an even touchdown and make it 21-21 when Waters ran two yards for the score.

Then Leigber returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, putting Laguna Hills back on top 28-21.

Birmingham turned to their peerless all-rounder, Waters, to keep pace. The Patriots tied the game at 28-28 with 11:13 left on Waters’ third touchdown, a five-yard run.

Next, Laguna Hills’ Drew Wade caught a 52-yard touchdown pass for a 35-28 lead with 9:24 to go.

Quarterback Kaden Austin completed eight of 10 passes for 188 yards for Laguna Hills. Morgan rushed for 129 yards for Birmingham and Waters caught nine passes for 112 yards.

It was a chance to see how much Birmingham had improved since struggling in August and September when they went 1-4 against Southern Section competition. The Patriots had since become primarily a running team trying to take the pressure off second-year quarterback Tisdell by winning the City Section Open Division Championship.

Birmingham’s Jomar Adams leaps to deflect the ball against Laguna Hills.

(Craig Weston)

“If it works, no need to change,” Rose said before the game. The offensive line had become a force, led by 310-pound junior Abdoni Ubeda.

Laguna Hills won the South Section Division 7 championship and produced a memorable season for coach John Lester, who underwent two brain surgeries to remove a tumor during the offseason and returned to guide the Hawks, whose the only loss was against Irvine Northwood, 21-17 on October 14.

It was a great night for a couple of City Section teams. Crenshaw won their bowling match 7-A, 48-7 over Whittier Christian, and will play next Saturday on the road against San Francisco Lincoln.

Granada Hills and Laguna Beach engaged in a wild 4-A regional bowl game with the Highlanders winning 56-55. Dijon Stanley scored four touchdowns and rushed for 252 yards for Granada Hills.

Granada Hills Kennedy was defeated by San Gabriel 46-34 in Division 6-A.

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