February 29, 2024

A City Section winning streak that shows no sign of ending continued on Saturday night in the Open Division championship football game at Valley College. The Birmingham Patriots haven’t lost to a City team since 2017, and when you have the best team and don’t make mistakes, the chance for an upset quickly disappears.

“It’s crazy,” junior quarterback Kingston Tisdell said. “Our guys are excited. I’m excited.”

Garfield tried to use up clock and make the Patriots work every possession, but the result was a second straight championship game defeat for the Bulldogs. The Patriots, under coach Jim Rose, won their 42nd consecutive game against City competition and a fourth consecutive Open Division title with a 49-7 victory. The streak ties Wilson High during the Ron Cuccia era of the 1970s.

“We know if we play our best game, it’s going to be hard to beat us,” Rose said. “We did click with the running game tonight.”

Sophomore running back Ronnell Hewitt rushed for 158 yards in 18 carries and scored two touchdowns. Junior running back Dredon Fowles rushed for 120 yards in 12 carries and scored twice. Even backup quarterback Javen Hall rushed for 76 yards and two touchdowns.

Tisdell, who has yet to have a pass intercepted this season in 162 attempts, completed a 67-yard touchdown pass to Antrell Harris on the final play of the first quarter for a 7-0 Birmingham lead, then connected with Peyton Waters on fourth down for a two-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Fowles ended the first half with a 12-yard touchdown run for a 21-0 lead. Tisdell finished nine-of-11 passing for 178 yards.

Birmingham quarterback Kingston Tisdell takes off on a scramble.

Birmingham quarterback Kingston Tisdell takes off on a scramble. He completed nine of 11 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns.

(Craig Weston)

Birmingham’s defense, featuring the Tonga twins, Bo and Nicholas, didn’t give Garfield too many opportunities to move the ball, though a penalty for an ineligible player down field and a dropped pass wiped away potential long gains.

It was the third City title for Waters, who’s headed to Washington in January and will leave as one of the greatest in Birmingham lore, putting himself alongside the likes of Milton Knox, Dennis Keyes and Arlis Boardingham. Waters caught eight passes for 111 yards.

His touchdown catch in traffic was a momentum changer. Garfield had stopped three short runs up the middle near the goal line. On fourth down, Tisdell was about to be sacked but was able to deliver a pinpoint to Waters in traffic. Waters later got to deal with some rare adversity, losing the ball on a fumble and giving up a nine-yard touchdown catch to Jayden Barnes with 7:25 left in the third quarter.

The Patriots came back with a dominant 78-yard drive featuring catches of seven, 16 and 14 yards from Waters and a 10-yard touchdown run from Hewitt for a 28-7 lead.

Garfield coach Lorenzo Hernandez, whose team lost to Birmingham 49-13 in the 2022 final, said, “They’re a great team. They have athletes all over the field. Coach Rose has done a phenomenal job.”

It’s already been a year to cherish for Rose. He got to celebrate with his daughter, Jessica, when leading the Patriots to a first-ever City title in the inaugural season of girls’ flag football. He’s been doing double duty coaching flag and 11-man football. His season continues because Birmingham will learn Sunday its opponent for a regional CIF bowl game. And Rose will be at SoFi Stadium for an All-Star flag football game.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said.

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