The dream was right there in front of La Serna High School senior quarterback C.J. Ceron all along. It just seemed to be growing more and more distant.
Ten years after his older brother, Tony, played a key role in helping the Whittier, California school win a CIF Southern Section football championship, Ceron steered the Lancers to a 49–29 victory over Corona del Mar of Newport Beach in this season’s Southern Section Division 4 title game.
Ceron always aspired to duplicate his brother’s achievement, of course. The road to that destination, however, included enough frustrating twists and turns that it was difficult at times to visualize the end goal.
“It’s been a crazy journey, to say the least,” an emotional Ceron told reporters following the Nov. 24 win over Corona del Mar. “All I can say is that was God. Honest truth, it was God.”
After beginning high school at La Serna, Ceron transferred to Bishop Alemany in Mission Hills, and later to Cathedral in Los Angeles. Along the way, a broken collarbone and a broken foot ruined his sophomore and junior seasons, respectively. Finally, “family stuff” resulted in a return to La Serna, but Ceron missed the first half of this season while observing the mandatory sit-out period for transfer student-athletes.
“It’s hard to explain how hard that was, the two season-ending injuries,” Ceron told The Epoch Times. “It was meant to be, meant for me to come home and win a CIF championship with this team and with my family here.”
While older brother Tony was a defensive back whose game-saving block of a field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter led to the Lancers’ 41–38, double-overtime victory over Norwalk in the 2013 Southern Section Southeast Division championship game, C.J. Ceron made his mark on offense.
His 22-yard touchdown pass to senior Isaiah Ramos extended a La Serna lead to 21–9 midway through the second quarter. Then, after the Sea Kings had scored consecutive touchdowns to pull within 35–22 early in the fourth, Ceron bolted 44 yards for the score that effectively sealed a championship-trophy celebration.
Ceron might be the biggest feel-good story among the Lancers, but there is no shortage of heroes for a team that next will face Orange Vista of Perris in a CIF state Division 2-AA semifinal. The 7 p.m. Dec. 1 matchup will take place on La Serna’s home field at California High in Whittier.
Senior running back Owen Long burned Corona del Mar with touchdown runs of 15, 55, 9, and 4 yards, all in the first half, on his way to 174 yards rushing.
“Owen is the heart and soul of this team, but it took everybody, and we got it done,” Coach Andy George told reporters after laying claim to his first CIF title in nine seasons as La Serna’s head man. “From the start, we believed, and we weren’t going to be denied. This is for all of our Lancer community, all of our Lancer families. This is for everybody, for those that came before us, for the coaches that came before me. It’s for La Serna.”
Echoing Ceron, Long dished credit for the offensive success to the line of tackles Jaden Campos and 6-foot-5, 255-pound Ryley Miller, guards Rudy Lopez and Jesse Madrid, and center Johnny Ramos.
“That whole unit, it’s been actually one of my favorite things this year, to see how they’ve grown,” Long told The Epoch Times. “They’ve really turned into a dominant line. They move bodies. They may not be the biggest, but it’s all about their angles and they hit the right spots. It’s pretty fun to watch.”
The Lancers, 11–3 overall and winners of nine consecutive games, captured the Del Rio League championship with a perfect 4–0 record. They won their four-section playoff games by an average of more than 25 points.
“We’re getting better each week, and we’re hot right now,” said Mr. George, a La Serna alumnus who was an assistant coach on the 2013 CIF championship team.
The Lancers’ defense came up huge against Corona del Mar, pressuring talented Sea Kings quarterback Kaleb Annett all night.
“He’s a dynamic player,” Mr. George told The Epoch Times. “We just wanted to disrupt his timing and slow down their passing game, and our defense did an incredible job.”
Junior Eli Perez sacked the Boise State-committed Annett twice. Isaiah Ramos, senior Adrian Castro, and junior Chase Pina recorded one sack apiece. Junior Kaimana Tufaga and senior Lazio Haas came up with interceptions. Junior Emre Law recovered an Annett fumble, and senior Jayden Northrup played a big role in containing standout Corona del Mar wide receiver Russell Weir until the decision was pretty much in hand.
Senior tackle Gavin Welling, meanwhile, “does all the dirty work upfront” to make such big plays possible, Mr. George said.
The 6-foot, 230-pound Castro, who ran for a 3-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and Long are among several La Serna players who contribute on both offense and defense.
“Castro is a stud,” Mr. George said. “He plays so hard, hits like a truck, and he’s very athletic. He’s been a leader for us all year, along with Owen.”
Near the end of the season, Northrup pointed to something the Lancers had done in the beginning.
“We had this thing called Unity Night,” he told The Epoch Times. “We all described why we play this game. All roads lead back to we love this game, and we want to do it for each other. So, when we line up every game, we look at each other and we say we’re going to do this for our brothers. We play with a little swag, I like to say. I’m grateful we have the players who have the confidence to do that.”