The Gardena Panthers qualified to play for the CIF Division 7-AA State Tournament (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

The Gardena Panthers football team ended their rollercoaster season with a victory after defeating the Marquez Gladiators 14-8 in the City Section Division III Championship. Gardena has not won a City Section championship since 2000.

“For me, it just feels like a glory,” said Panthers senior wide receiver, Andre Lawson, who was born and raised in Gardena. “This is what I’ve been living for, just to get a ring in Gardena.”

The Panthers advance into the division 7-AA State playoffs and will travel to San Diego to play the Francis Parker Lancers on December 6 at 7:30P.M.

Gardena floundered in the Marine League, losing to the likes of Banning and San Pedro during the season. Yet, battling their open division league mates paid off as they prevailed to be the only team in the Marine League to earn a City Section title this season.

Both Gardena and Marquez had stalwarts on the defensive end and did not allow each other a second first down in their first possessions.

Gardena senior running back Deajon Little made a 25-yard rush and senior quarterback Daquan Paul made a 47-yard scramble on the next play. Gardena had a first-and-goal on the Marquez eight-yard line. Two plays later, Paul rushed in a touchdown from three yards out. After a failed extra point attempt, the Panthers were up 6-0 in the first quarter.

Gardena senior running back Deajon Little (6) made crucial plays during the City Section division III championship (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

Marquez found momentum through the rushes from senior, Oscar Hernandez. The Gladiators executed big plays on the third down throughout the afternoon with accurate passes which led them to the Gardena redzone.

The Panther defense denied Hernandez a trip to the endzone on the fourth and goal leaving them scoreless.

Gardena beefed up their red zone defense in the second quarter and recovered a Marquez fumble to start the Panther offense up on their 23-yard line. Two plays later, Marquez senior defensive back, Daniel Limas, intercepted one of Paul’s passes.

Gladiator senior quarterback, Erick Salas connected with senior wideout Francisco Amescua to make first downs. After reaching the Gardena 18-yard line, Salas was picked off by senior defensive back Adrian Wallace.

After halftime, the Gardena defense limited the rushes of senior Joey Vasquez. The Panthers offensive line returned and made large advances on the ground. Paul connected with Lawson to reach the Marquez red zone and ran in his second touchdown of the day a few plays later. Gardena’s special teams pulled off a fake punt to execute a successful two-point conversion.

“We came out second half,” Paul said. “We were just focused and ready to score.”

Marquez was the top seed with an undefeated 13-0 record while Gardena had a 9-4 overall record going into the championship game (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

The Gladiators never gave up, moving down the field through runs by rusher Armando Guardado and passes to Amescua and senior Jorge Barajas. Marquez scored for the first time in the game in the early minutes of the fourth quarter.

Marquez refused Gardena any first downs for the rest of the game. A wide open Lawson dropped a pass, forcing the Gardena defense on the field. The Panthers fought off the Gladiators advances, ultimately intercepting a pass to bring their offensive line out in the final minute of the game.

“[Marquez] just started rushing everybody to stop our run,” Little said. “But coach just told us to settle down and fight through it.”

On a fourth and eleven, Marquez earned a safety as regulation came to an end. Their scoring tackle was not enough to defeat Gardena.

Birmingham high school defeated Banning 27-20 to win the open division City Section title, Reseda beat El Camino Real 44-26 for the Division I championship and Canoga Park defeated Franklin 28-20 fo the Division II title.