By Fred Altieri
T minus one and counting. With one week and one win remaining to capture the 2013 Ocean League Championship, Culver City High is ready to blast off into the CIF Football Playoffs after thoroughly discarding Morningside High 48-0 at Coleman Field in the self-proclaimed "City of Champions", Inglewood.
The Centaurs scored seven touchdowns and appeared at times to match the constant stream of passenger jets signaling above in the nighttime air while cruising a few hundred yards directly above the southern end of the football field on their way to landing at LAX a few miles west.
The victory also extended the Culver teams' perfect shutout streak of at least one in each of the last five years coached by Jahmal Wright. They have registered eight shutouts since his first year of coaching and have yet to be shut out themselves during the same time period.
Once again the Centaur defense set the tone, allowing their offense and special teams to wreck havoc on the Monarchs. Coach Wright offered, "I was very pleased how our defense played. Since we hit league we've done a good job of playing very good defense and haven't given up too many points. We were able to get stops and Morningside had a hard time moving the football."
Culver's strategy was tuned-in from the opening kickoff. "We won the toss and elected to start out on defense. We were able to hold Morningside to a three-and-out. They punted the ball and Stanley Norman returned the ball 45 yards for a touchdown.
"Because Stanley had such a reputation for being a big-play guy teams don't punt the ball to him. So it was a breath of fresh air that somebody actually punted the ball to him. He's an electric player that can make a big play anytime."
Norman scored two touchdowns, caught two passes for 72 yards and ran four times for 25 yards. His scoring catch came from senior David Handler, starting the game at quarterback, who threw a team season-high four touchdown passes and gives the Centaurs a formidable one-two punch at the position.
Wright explained the substitution and liked what he saw at the helm,
"Armani Rogers sustained an injury in the Santa Monica game and I made an executive decision to rest him so he would be good to go later on."
"We were very pleased with how David Handler performed. It's a credit to David being such a diligent, hard worker. We always talk about: "When your number's called make sure you're ready." And he was ready."
Morningside threw everything but the kitchen sink at Handler. Under constant pressure, he attacked in kind using his receivers to expose the Monarch secondary.
Wright explains in detail, "Morningside made a concerted effort to commit a lot of guys to the line of scrimmage as far as blitzing and stuff. When they do that they have to play man-to-man and we have a pretty talented receiving corps. It's tough to play man-to-man defense on us and we were able to take advantage."
The game was virtually decided by halftime at 27-0. The offense came from everywhere. Donovan Davis led the rushing with eight carries for 64 yards. Marcus Moore had two receptions for 37 yards and one touchdown. Jericho Flowers returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown. Mark Conley scored on an end-around run inside the red zone.
Speedster Brandon Hasson's 13-yard touchdown illustrated the diversity employed by the Centaur coaching staff. "On Brandon's touchdown we saw one-on-one coverage on the outside so we called an isolation route, a vertical route. He was able to beat his defender and get open for a touchdown."
The kicking game continued to contribute as Nico Melendez hit on six of seven PAT's despite the poor field lighting and the very short goal posts extending from the crossbar, reducing the visionary target considerably. Jason Grossman concluded the offensive barrage with a 47-yard pass from Handler minutes before the final gun.
But it was the defense that sucked the life out of Morningside as they were held to a mere 147 yards of total offense. The Monarch quarterback completed just five of 16 passes for 28 yards.
Just a few of the defensive standouts: Marco Cardenas had four solo and four assisted tackles. Remy Grundy had five solos, two assisted, one sack, one tackle for loss and one fumble caused.
Reynard Saxon had four solo, three assisted tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and one interception. Kevin Beacham had an interception as well to go with his four solos, one assisted and one tackle for loss.
Despite the four-game winning streak Coach Wright is still looking for improvement. "For the coming game against Beverly Hills our plan is execution, playing hard, playing as a team and finishing out well. Attempting to go undefeated in league for the first time since 2009 is something special that we can accomplish.
"The players know what's in front of them and I have no doubt that they'll be up for the challenge and seize the moment and not take it for granted."