Notrer Dame defender Aidan Elias tries to bring down Serra's Anterio… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)
Sherman Oaks Notre Dame has produced two state 100-meter track champions who were 2,000-yard rushers in football, Justin Fargas and Rodney Glass, and now the Knights have a running back even faster than those two speedsters at a similar age.
Khalfani Muhammad is his name, and when he gets some daylight, the end zone suddenly doesn't look very far away.
The junior rushed for 151 yards in 22 carries and scored two touchdowns on Friday night as the Knights wiped away the memories of a 2-8 season in 2010 by knocking off Gardena Serra, 35-13.
Muhammad finished second in the state 100-meter championship as a sophomore. He missed most of summer football while focusing on his track, so anyone who made a judgment on the Knights based on seven-on-seven passing tournaments might want to revise their thinking.
"If we keep opening space for him, he's going to have a great year," Coach Kevin Rooney said.
Muhammad had a 69-yard touchdown run nullified because of a holding penalty. The Knights' game plan was to pound the Cavaliers with a rushing attack, but after opening a 20-13 halftime lead, junior quarterback Kelly Hilinski showed in his first varsity start that he was ready to contribute.
He completed touchdown passes of 10 yards to Josh Anderson and 30 yards to Muhammad. Twice he got off passes with Serra defenders all over his body, demonstrating poise and agility. The 6-foot-6 Hilinski scored a touchdown on a one-yard run and finished eight of 10 for 97 yards.
"We wanted to run the ball down their throat as much as we can," Hilinski said. "That's what happened."
Serra, which has played in consecutive bowl games, lost to graduation the receiver trio of Robert Woods, George Farmer and Marqise Lee. But even more badly missed, based on Friday's result, was quarterback Conner Preston, now at SMU.
The Cavaliers went with sophomore quarterback Jalen Greene, who struggled at times. But Serra's powerful offensive line helped junior running back Anterio Bateman rush for 168 yards in 11 carries.
It didn't help that Serra's top college prospect, Raymond Ford, went out in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
"We need to do better on defense," Serra Coach Scott Altenberg said. "We'll fix it."
Nick Monica of Notre Dame had an interception at the two-yard line and scored with 3:31 left in the second quarter to put the Knights on top, 20-10.
Notre Dame lost four games last season in the final seconds, none more frustrating than a season-ending defeat to Encino Crespi when it gave up a 70-yard touchdown on the final play. Months of preparation were put in to change that memory.
"This is unbelievable," Muhammad said. "We've been waiting for this."