“We’re still the champs.”
Lake Balboa Birmingham coach Jim Rose offered that quip moments after his team somehow, some way pulled out a 28-27 double-overtime victory over Venice in a thrilling opening game of the City Section Open Division playoffs on Thursday night at Venice.
After Rashawn Jackson caught an eight-yard touchdown pass in the second overtime, Venice called a timeout to decide whether to go for two and the win. The Gondoliers sent out the offense, but Birmingham’s defense tackled quarterback Paul Kessler to end the game.
“That was a great game,” Rose said. “There’s a lot of parity in the City Section, but I’m ecstatic about our guys to get to the semifinals with as young a team as we have.”
No. 7-seeded Birmingham (7-4), which will play Banning in the semifinals, came in having not lost to a City Section team since 2017, a 31-game win streak, and consecutive Open Division championships. No. 2-seeded Venice (9-3) appeared on its way to victory after an electrifying 63-yard punt return by Jackson gave the Gondoliers a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
Then came a one-yard touchdown run by Robert Lamar for a 21-10 lead.
Birmingham was supposed to be beatable this season without Arlis Boardingham (off to Florida), but still around is talented junior Peyton Waters, who ran for two touchdowns, caught a touchdown, made an interception and was exceptional at cornerback.
“Both teams played really hard,” Waters said.
Quarterback Kingston Tisdale guided the Patriots into the end zone with 3:39 left, finishing with a six-yard touchdown pass to Waters. Then Waters ran in the two-point conversion, making it 21-18.
Kicker Jacy Oliva tied the score with a 26-yard field goal with 9.6 seconds left.
Both teams committed turnovers in the first overtime, then Birmingham went ahead with a Waters four-yard touchdown run.
Venice finished with five turnovers.
“We’re going to fight the very end,” Waters said.
The first half ended in a 7-7 tie. It was only a question whether Rose or Angelo Gasca of Venice could figure out how to get the ball to the best athletes. When they did, good things happened.
Jackson had a 31-yard touchdown catch from Kessler on fourth down in the second quarter to give to Gondoliers a 7-0 lead. Watson tied the score late in the second quarter with a four-yard touchdown out of the wildcat formation.
Jackson and Waters, the best athletes on their respective teams and All-City players, were doing their best trying to influence the game. Jackson twice picked up first downs running the ball on fake punts (one was wiped out by a penalty). Waters had a first-quarter interception and saved a touchdown by deflecting the ball away from Jackson in a one-on-one duel.
Three times Birmingham went for it on fourth down and was stopped by Venice in the first half. Kessler was sacked twice by David Vegas and Bo Tonga and struggled without the help of a rushing threat.
Top-seeded San Pedro lost to Eagle Rock 38-31 in overtime.