First published in the Nov. 6 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
When Burroughs and Burbank High play football, it is always a big game.
The contest is literally called “The Big Game” and has been played since 1949, but this season’s matchup was doubly intense with a CIF-playoff berth on the line.
Burroughs played a physical brand of football en route to a 30-20 Pacific League victory over the hosting Bulldogs last Friday night at Memorial Field in the regular season finale for both squads.
“Our goal this year was to take the next step, and that was to beat Burbank and go to the playoffs,” Burroughs coach Jesse Carven said. “We knew to go to playoffs we were going to have to beat Burbank. They are a great team. It’s been a great rivalry. It’s a good win for our program.”
With the win, Burroughs (4-5 overall record, 2-3 in league) matches the win total for Burbank (3-7, 2-3) in league play, but the Bears earn third place by winning the head-to-head matchup. Consequently, Burroughs is headed to the postseason and the Bulldogs’ season has come to an end.
“I think [Burroughs] was more physical,” Burbank coach Adam Colman said. “We talked about it. The more physical team in the trenches was going to win.”
On offense, the Bears rode the legs of quarterback Jon English to victory, with an assist from his arm. The senior racked up 209 yards rushing on 27 carries. English also threw two touchdown passes while going seven of 11 for 79 yards.
“We were just more physical. We were bigger. We just wanted it more,” English said.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over four times. The Bears intercepted Bulldog quarterback Dylan Robinson three times, including one returned 55 yards in the first quarter by Elijah Aldana-Pere for a touchdown, and recovered a fumble. The Bears scored 20 of their points off takeaways.
Nate Howland-Chhina shined for the Bears on both sides of the ball. The senior had 12 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown. He also recovered a fumble in the first quarter before scoring a touchdown on the ensuing Burroughs drive on a 22-yard run. Additionally, Howland-Chhina recorded two sacks in the fourth quarter.
“It was emotional. I played for Burbank for two years. I know everybody over there. To come here with this group [of Bears], I have the best football team in the world,” Howland-Chinna said. “To see that scoreboard was a special moment.”
It was the 73rd installment of the Big Game and, by way of COVID, the first time in its history that the schools have met twice in the same calendar year. The Bears now lead the series 43-30.
Burroughs held a 13-6 lead at halftime thanks to Howland-Chhina and Aldana-Pere. Burbank’s points had come on two field goals by Freddy Cardenas from 27 and 29 yards.
Early in the second half, Burbank had the ball deep in Burroughs territory after recovering a fumbled snap, but Bear Drake Vickers picked off Robinson in the end zone on fourth down.
The subsequent Burroughs drive covered 91 yards in 11 plays and took 5:52, ending when Aldana-Pere rose up over his defender to snatch a 28-yard touchdown pass for what would be the largest lead of the contest at 20-6.
Now in desperate need of a score, Burbank got one set up by some trickery. Robinson handed the ball off to Nick Franco going right, who then threw back across the field to Robinson, who took off for a 55-yard gain. Robinson then finished the drive, running for a 2-yard score. Robinson finished seven of 15 for 110 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. He also rushed for 73 yards and the touchdown.
Burroughs answered back early in the fourth quarter with a 16-yard touchdown pass by English facing a fourth down and 14 yards to go. Then it was Burbank’s turn. Robinson threw a pass out to the left behind the line of scrimmage to Rony Preza, who was forced back across the field. Robinson then threw a block to spring Preza, who took it 84 yards for the score.
Burroughs came back with a sustained drive that took 6:31 off the fourth-quarter clock. It ended with a 24-yard field goal by Brodie Kemp with 2:53 left to once again make it a two-score advantage.
“We are going to the playoffs now, so the job is not finished,” English said.
The Bears opened the CIF-SS Division 11 playoffs by playing at Torrance High (6-4 record) last night; the result was too late for the Leader’s press deadline. Should Burroughs win, it will advance to the quarterfinals to play either Ojai Nordhoff (6-4 record) or Vista del Lago High of Moreno Valley (7-3 record) this coming Friday evening.