Football

State champs! Acalanes storms back to beat Birmingham for 3-AA title

MISSION VIEJO – Acalanes, an East Bay school that opened its doors in 1940 and had never won a section football title until last month, completed the championship trifecta on Saturday.

The Dons overcame a two-touchdown deficit to capture their first state title, beating Birmingham of Lake Balboa 35-23 in the CIF Division 3-AA championship game at Saddleback College.

Acalanes scored on the final snap of the first half to cut the deficit to seven and took the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The Dons put the game away on a 10-yard fourth-down pass from quarterback Sully Bailey to Paul Kuhner with 31 seconds left, adding a state championship trophy to the section and regional titles the Lafayette school won the past two weekends.

It was Bailey’s fourth TD pass of the game. The senior finished 23 of 36 for 290 yards, playing the last 15 1/2 minutes on a gimpy knee he suffered on a vicious tackle.

“At a point, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to continue,” Bailey said. “I heard something pop and they told me it was probably a sprained MCL. It wasn’t an ACL. I knew I had to finish this game.”

Bailey’s backup is injured and the No. 3 quarterback is a freshman.

“I owe everything to all of these guys,” Bailey added. “I knew I had to go out there and play.”

Acalanes quarterback Sully Bailey (9) gets his knee wrapped up by a trainer after taking a hit by Birmingham’s Peyton Waters (17) in the third quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Acalanes (11-4) ended the season on a five-game winning streak and became the first Northern California team to celebrate a title at Saddleback in the three years that the CIF started playing championship games there. The North had been 0-12 after De La Salle and Grant-Sacramento lost Friday.

Acalanes trailed 21-7 after Birmingham’s Peyton Waters caught his second touchdown of the game, a 3-yard strike from Kingston Tisdell with 1:15 left before halftime.

The Dons were teetering. Momentum was on the Southern California team’s side.

But this Acalanes team is resilient, no matter the situation.

Acalanes head coach Floyd Burnsed poses for a photo with his players after defeating Birmingham during their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes head coach Floyd Burnsed poses for a photo with his players after defeating Birmingham during their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

The Dons had three timeouts. They had 57 yards to cover. They knew that they were getting the ball again to start the second half.

Acalanes went on the longest 69-second drive maybe of its season, a 12-play journey that took all the time off the clock.

It ended with Jack Giorgianni crashing across the goal line from the 1 to pull the Bay Area team to within 21-14 at the halftime break.

“These goalposts are narrower than high school,” Acalanes coach Floyd Burnsed said. “I felt like we could get the touchdown. We were only a foot away. That was huge.”

Acalanes' Henry Souza (22) reaches to catch a touchdown pass in front of Birmingham's Peyton Waters (17) in the third quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes’ Henry Souza (22) reaches to catch a touchdown pass in front of Birmingham’s Peyton Waters (17) in the third quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Acalanes then opened the third quarter with a 10-play drive to pull even 21-21. Henry Souza accounted for the touchdown, making a dazzling one-handed catch in the end zone on an 8-yard fastball from Bailey.

The Acalanes defense bent but didn’t break on Birmingham’s first series of the second half, holding on downs inside the 15.

But a high snap on an Acalanes punt from its 32 ended with a safety, giving Birmingham a 23-21 lead with 3:34 left in the third quarter.

It seemed to get worse for Acalanes later in the quarter when Bailey, while trying to run for a first down, took a big-time hit on his knee. The senior stayed down for a while, eventually hobbling to the sideline.

But when Acalanes got the ball back at its 6, Bailey trotted onto the field.

Good thing, too.

Bailey threw a 59-yard bomb down the left sideline to Trevor Rogers. Two plays later, on the first snap of the fourth quarter, Rogers, a star sprinter on the school’s track team, caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from the quarterback while being tightly defended to give Acalanes its first lead of the game, 28-23.

Acalanes' Trevor Rogers (5) makes a 60-yard catch in front of Birmingham's Peyton Waters (17) in the third quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes’ Trevor Rogers (5) makes a 59-yard catch in front of Birmingham’s Peyton Waters (17) in the third quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Rogers, who finished with seven receptions for 149 yards and two TDs, wasn’t surprised Bailey gutted it out to lead the Dons to victory. He said the quarterback’s garage is filled with footballs, his backyard has throwing nets to help with mechanics.

“All that guy does all day is watch film and play football,” Rogers said. “He’s a gamer. Nothing could keep him out of that game. It doesn’t matter how hurt he got.”

Down the stretch, the Acalanes defense stiffened and Bailey and his teammates had one more moment, a championship-clinching moment. On fourth down from the 10 in the final minute, Bailey threw a strike to Kuhner for the touchdown that completed Acalanes’ postseason run.

“There really are no words to describe it,” Kuhner said of the final TD. “This is what we wanted to do since Day 1. Through the ups and downs, just catching that ball, it meant the world. From coaches trusting me all year to my teammates, that was like the epitome, the culmination to all that.

“The idea to call my name and be like, ‘Hey, you’re going to catch this and you’re going to win the game,’ this group of guys is family. We really are. It just means the world.”

Kuhner added about Bailey, “He is an incredible leader and an incredible athlete. Just to face that type of pain that I know he is going through and to say I am going to do this for my brothers, I am going to do this for my family and get back out there … that’s what he did.”

Acalanes head coach Floyd Burnsed raises the first place trophy and points to his players after defeating Birmingham during their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes head coach Floyd Burnsed raises the first place trophy and points to his players after defeating Birmingham during their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Acalanes' Trevor Rogers (5) runs for a touchdown against Birmingham in the first quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes’ Trevor Rogers (5) runs for a touchdown against Birmingham in the first quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Acalanes' Trevor Rogers (5) tackles Birmingham's Maynor Morales (9) after making a catch in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes’ Trevor Rogers (5) tackles Birmingham’s Maynor Morales (9) after making a catch in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Acalanes quarterback Sully Bailey (9) throws a pass against Birmingham in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes quarterback Sully Bailey (9) throws a pass against Birmingham in the second quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Acalanes head coach Floyd Burnsed manages to stop Acalanes' Danny Martin (54) from dousing him with water after defeating Birmingham during their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes head coach Floyd Burnsed manages to stop Acalanes’ Danny Martin (54) from dousing him with water after defeating Birmingham during their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Acalanes defeated Birmingham 35-23 to capture their first state title. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Acalanes' Trevor Rogers (5) reacts after scoring a touchdown against Birmingham in the first quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes’ Trevor Rogers (5) reacts after scoring a touchdown against Birmingham in the first quarter of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
Acalanes runs onto the field during team introductions before the start of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)Acalanes runs onto the field during team introductions before the start of their CIF state football championship Division 3-AA game at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

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