FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP GAME IN 33 YEARS
Culver To Play At Arroyo Grande
Five weeks ago, when the Culver City High football team was beaten by Santa Monica on its home field, the Centaurs’ season was hanging by a thread.
But since then, the Centaurs have stitched together an improbable CIF-Southern Section playoff run that now has Culver City one victory away from a championship.
Avenging that loss to the Vikings, the Centaurs (10-3) routed Santa Monica in a rematch 37-6 last week in a Western Division semifinal game, and advance to Friday’s championship game against Arroyo Grande, the PAC 7 champion. Culver City will have to make the four-hour drive north to play on the Eagles’ home field for the 7:30 p.m. contest.
This is the first time in 33 years Culver City has reached the division championship game.
The long ride doesn’t matter much to Centaurs coach Jahmal Wright.
“Any coach will tell you that if you can reach the finals, you’ll play anywhere,” Wright said. “We don’t care if the game is played in Siberia, we’re just glad to be playing. This is what you dream about. All the hard work, the ups and downs you go through, this is what it’s all about.
“It’s hard to put into words what this means.”
Culver City’s victory over Santa Monica last week was the Centaurs’ fourth in a row since that loss to the Vikings on Nov. 4.
Culver City hasn’t lost since, defeating Beverly Hills to finish third in the Ocean League and make the playoffs, then upsetting No. 1 seed Serra on the road, followed by home playoff wins over Righetti and Santa Monica.
The Centaurs’ run through the postseason has surprised many, but not Wright.
“I know I sound like a broken record, but if you had asked me before the season if we could be in this position, I would have said yes because we have 27 seniors,” Wright said. “We expected a lot of success because of that experience.
“We had a lot of injuries, losing six starters on offense at one point, but once we got healthy we really started clicking. It started during the week of the Beverly Hills game. Alex (Jackson) and Julius (Wilson) were back at practice for the first time in a while, and the offense really picked up the tempo and attitude in practice.
“Our defense has been pretty consistent all season, but once we got all our offensive guys healthy, we really started to click, and that’s been the difference.”
Culver City will be aiming for the school’s second CIF title. The Centaurs won the Northwestern Conference championship in 1978.
Arroyo Grande (12-1), which defeated Chaminade last Friday in its semifinal game, is trying to become the first San Luis Obispo County team to win a section title in 10 years. The Eagles reached the Western Division title game last year but lost to Serra, 35-10.
Arroyo Grande has a top-flight quarterback in senior Brent Vanderveen, who has completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,244 yards and 19 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. Senior Henry Aldeman has rushed for 1,120 yards and 16 touchdowns, and Gabe Deleon and Seth Jacobs have each rushed for more than 500 yards, and each has scored 10 touchdowns.
“They’re very explosive,” Wright said. “But I think we match up well with them.”
Culver City got to the title game by dominating the rival Vikings. The Centaurs took a 27-0 lead at halftime and never looked back, holding Santa Monica to just 155 total yards.
Lukas O’Connor completed 21 of 26 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. Jackson caught six passes for 166 yards and a touchdown, Kevin Porche caught five passes for 74 yards and a touchdown, and Jimmy Haywood caught two passes for 19 yards and a touchdown. Akili Skannal and Porche each ran for touchdowns.
On defense, Keishawn Haley had nine tackles, Deon Young had eight tackles and two sacks, and Ryan Jackson and Jonathan Jackson each added seven tackles.
The Centaurs will likely be the underdog on Friday, since they’re playing far away from home against a team that has lost just once this season and has the experience of playing in a championship game a year ago. But Culver City’s playoff run has given Wright and the Centaurs plenty of confidence.
“It’s an awesome accomplishment for the kids to get to this point,” Wright said. “It’s a testament to their fortitude. We’re going into this game believing we can win.”