The Culver City High football team’s CIF-Southern Section playoff run might be a surprise to some, but if you listen to Centaurs coach Jahmal Wright explain, it makes perfect sense.
“At the time of year the playoffs start, a lot of teams are banged up,” he said. “But we suffered so many injuries early in the season, by the time the playoffs rolled around those guys were getting healthy, and we started to hit our stride.”
Culver City, which lost several key offensive players during different parts of the regular season, has regained its health just in time, and the Centaurs continued their postseason roll with a 51-28 victory over Righetti in a Western Division quarterfinal game last Friday.
Lukas O’Connor threw six touchdown passes for the Centaurs (9-3), who will play in the semifinals for the first time since 2002. And it won’t be just any team that Culver City will face.
The Centaurs will play host to Ocean League rival Santa Monica, which defeated Ventura last week, 29-24. The Vikings (11-1) have won eight consecutive games, including a 17-14 victory over the Centaurs in Culver City on Nov. 4 that clinched the league title for Santa Monica.
Now, the stakes are even higher.
Wright said he’s glad to face a familiar foe.
“Some coaches may not feel this way, but I’d rather play against a team I’m familiar with,” Wright said. “We welcome the opportunity to get another shot at Santa Monica. Them being a rival, and this game being for a spot in the championship game, just puts more on top of it.”
Culver City is aiming to get into a CIF championship game for the first time since 1978, which is also the last time the Centaurs won a title. Santa Monica is attempting to qualify for the first time since 2001 when it also won the title.
Santa Monica coach Travis Clark recognizes the difficulty for his team.
“In order to reach the championship game we’ll have to defeat Culver City twice in the same season, both at their place,’ he said. “That won’t be easy.”
The Centaurs’ offense broke out in a big way against Righetti (9-4), which finished second in the Pac-7 League during the regular season and defeated Downey in its first-round playoff game. Culver City scored on the third play of the game on an 83-yard pass from O’Connor to Jimmy Haywood and raced to a 41-7 lead at halftime.
Culver City didn’t punt until the fourth quarter, when the game had long since been decided.
O’Connor, who’s had his ups and downs this season, had perhaps his best overall performance as the Centaurs’ starting quarterback, completing 17 of 22 passes for 409 yards and the six touchdowns.
Alex Jackson caught seven passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns, Haywood caught four passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns, Julius Wilson caught four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, and Kevin Porche caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown.
Akili Skannal scored a touchdown rushing for the Centaurs.
On defense, Ryan Jackson had 17 tackles, Ronald Jones had 15 tackles and a sack and Anthony Tucker had 10 tackles and a sack.
“We knew all season that we could play like this,” Wright said. “When we’re healthy, we can click on all cylinders. To do what we did in this game, it shows just how good we can be as a team.”
The Centaurs have lost their last two games against Santa Monica, but prior to that, Culver City beat the Vikings in 2007, 2008 and 2009.