Culver Eliminates Top-Seeded Serra
It didn’t seem like this was possible.
Not with the Culver City High football team facing the No. 1 seed in the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs, on the road.
Not with the Centaurs facing a Serra team that had gone 50-4 and won two CIF titles since the start of the 2008 season.
And certainly not facing a 14-0 first-quarter deficit in front of a hostile crowd.
But in a season that has gone anything but according to plan, Culver City got up off the deck after being flattened early and delivered a shocking knockout blow, rallying to defeat Serra 21-14 in a first-round Western Division game.
The upset earned Culver City a home game against Righetti High of Santa Maria, the second-place team from the Pac-7 league that beat Downey in its first-round game, in the Western Division quarterfinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Culver City, which finished in third place in the Ocean League and had to beat Beverly Hills in its last regular-season game just to make the playoffs, has fought through several injuries to key players. The Centaurs have also fought through some inconsistent play, but beating Serra – which had won the tough Mission League -- was as impressive a victory and a biggest test of their resilience in years.
“We realized that if we’re going to get some respect, we needed to play up to their level and beat them,” Centaurs coach Jahmal Wright said. “Serra has gotten a lot of notoriety, and rightfully so, but our players weren’t scared, they saw this as an opportunity.
“Honestly, we envisioned ourselves being here before the season started. Going through all the adversity we’ve gone through, having seven starters miss time during the season with injuries, prepared us for this moment.”
And what a moment it was.
After falling behind 14-0, Culver City (8-3) didn’t allow Serra (8-3) to score again, and put together one of the best comebacks in school history.
It started with a 77-yard touchdown pass by Kevin Porche to Alex Jackson out of the Wildcat formation in the second quarter to get the Centaurs on the scoreboard, making it 14-7. Then came a 94-yard drive for a touchdown, scored by Porche on a 1-yard run to tie the game 14-14 at halftime.
But the drama was just getting started.
Culver City drove 80 yards to start the second half to take the lead for good, 21-14, on an Akili Skannal 1-yard run. Then the Centaurs had to hold off Serra, which had several chances to rally.
Late in the third quarter, Serra intercepted a Lukas O’Connor pass and returned it to the Culver City 33-yard line. But the Centaurs held and took over on downs at their own 30.
On the first play after that defensive stand, the Centaurs fumbled and Serra recovered at the Culver City 39. Serra would score a few plays later, but the touchdown was nullified by a holding penalty. Serra would still drive to the Culver City 5, but Miles Washington blocked a field-goal attempt to keep the score 21-14.
After a missed field goal by Culver City’s Ret Tillman, Serra drove to the Culver City 5, but a Centaurs defender caused a fumble that caused Serra to lose yardage, and the Cavaliers failed on a fourth-down pass into the end zone.
But Serra had one more chance. With three minutes left, the Cavaliers drove from their own 30 to the Culver City 37, but Jonathan Jackson recovered a Serra fumble with less than a minute left to seal the shocking victory.
“When we were down 14-0, we were concerned, but we showed what we’re all about with the way we responded,” Wright said. “We just started getting stops on defense and gained more confidence the longer the game went. I’m so proud of the kids for not giving up.”
O’Connor completed 10 of 22 passes for 125 yards, while Porche, out of the Wildcat formation, completed 5 of 10 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown and ran for 67 yards.
Jackson caught three passes for 96 yards and a touchdown, while Julius Wilson caught four passes for 75 yards.
On defense, Ronald Jones had 19 tackles, Keishawn Haley had 16 tackles and two sacks and Washington had the big blocked field goal and played good one-on-one pass defense, Wright said.
Wright said the Centaurs are fully healthy and that is crucial to how well they’re playing right now. The only player who didn’t play last week was linebacker Kahlil Pettway, who still had not been cleared by doctors since having seizures several games ago, but Wright was hopeful Pettway would be cleared to play against Righetti.