Culver City Observer -

By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

ALMOST---Culver Loses Final Game By One point


November 30, 2017

Fred Altieri

Centaurs and Colts battle to the end

The agony of defeat paid a visit to Culver City High last Friday night. The black, white and blue clad Centaurs put on a brilliant display of dynamic football while suffering a 57-56 heartbreaking loss to Covina High. A dramatic do-or-die, two-point conversion in overtime by the Colts sent the Centaurs reeling into stunned silence on the last play of the game.

"Great game to be a part of and super proud of how our team played. We showed resolve, we showed heart, we showed fight and we showed pride. It's just unfortunate to be on the losing end of such a great game," lamented Centaur Head Coach Jahmal Wright.

"Our players worked so hard and deserved a championship. It's unfortunate that we fell one game short. I'm still not over this one. It's probably the toughest loss in my coaching career." Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow for the Centaurs is the fact that they took the lead on their very last offensive play and were still denied a trip to the CIF Division 11 Playoff Championship game.

The Centaurs lost the coin toss to start overtime. Covina elected to give Culver the ball first from the 25-yard line. The home crowd erupted when Kevin McGuire seemingly delivered the decisive blow on the first play, streaking around left end for the go-ahead score. Carlos Barillas converted his eighth successful extra-point kick attempt of the game to give Culver a 56-49 lead.

The spotlight now fell on Covina's ground attack. Six grinding plays later Erik Cuellar fell across the goal line. The Colts now trailed by one point. The Covina coaching staff decided to roll the dice and go for two. Coach Wright raced to call timeout for Culver as Covina rushed to the line of scrimmage for the game's last play.

"I tried to run out to the middle of the field. I saw that our defensive personnel were compromised with what they had on the field. I was trying to call a time-out and I guess the referees never saw me. But there's nothing we could do. It was over," explained Wright. Seconds later Covina's Ailaoa Tauvao powered into the end zone from the three-yard line to seal the Centaurs' fate.

The Colts scored the first touchdown of the game. The Centaurs tied it when quarterback Jonathan Martin threw to Alex Smith past midfield, who then sprinted down the left sideline for a 63-yard score. Covina scored again to make it 14-7 after the first quarter. Martin responded with a 14-yard touchdown strike to Charles Ross to tie it early in the second.

Culver's offense soon flinched with a botched handoff near midfield. Covina converted the turnover into a six-yard touchdown minutes later. On the ensuing kickoff the Centaurs failed to recover the kick, handing the ball to the Colts at the 25-yard line. One play later Covina had a 28-14 lead going into halftime.

"We thought we played a decent first half but we just had two unfortunate turnovers at the end of the half that extended their lead out," said Wright. "I definitely felt a sense of urgency in the locker room. I could definitely look in their eyes that they wanted it. They weren't panicked or defeated.

"They were just ready to get the second half started to get back in the game. We have a lot of confidence in our offense. Our focus was just getting that first stop because they were getting the ball back starting the second half. We came out, made our adjustments and the team responded."

The Centaurs came out with a vengeance to start the second half. They torched the Colts for three touchdowns in less than three minutes like a video game. At 10:02 of the third quarter Kevin McGuire scored the first of his three touchdowns with a 32-yard dash. 13 seconds later Robert Simon intercepted a Covina pass at the 35-yard line.

Two plays later Martin hit Jamal Glaspie, who raced down the right sideline to tie the score at 9:06. The Culver defense then forced a punt after a Colt three-and-out. From midfield Martin drove the team with precision. Following a penalty McGuire punched in his second touchdown at 7:06, good for 35-28 lead. Covina fired back with their duo sophomore threat, quarterback Nin Burns and running back Erik Cuellar buoyed by an effective frontline.

Wright: "Their quarterback was very athletic and a threat running and throwing the ball. Their running back was able to get behind his bigs. I thought their offensive line did a great job of creating running lanes for their running backs. They really deserve a lot of credit."

Covina tied the game with a 25-yard run with 1:33 left in the third quarter. Culver responded drive unfortunately ending with a fumble at the Colt 36-yard line. Wright: "Alex was really fighting for extra yards and getting a first down for us on a third-and-15 play."

"He caught a short pass, broke a couple of tackles and tried to switch the ball. His heart was in the right place, he had the first down and it was a great run. But we turned it over and they were able to turn that over into points." Covina's drive ended with a nine-yard touchdown run and a 42-35 lead with 9:11 remaining in regulation.

"We had some untimely and uncharacteristic blown coverages at the most inopportune time. They had a third-and-22 they had a first down on," said Wright. "They had a fourth down-and-14 they scored a touchdown on. They had another third-and-15 where they were able to connect across the middle."

Culver retaliated, backed by Brandon Oum's daring runs that kept moving the chains. Martin's tossed a 23-yard beauty to Ross in the left corner of the end zone to tie the score at 7:59. Martin threw for over 400 yards and five touchdowns in his final high school game. His three years playing varsity football will not be forgotten.

Covina struck back with their longest scoring drive and a 49-42 lead with 4:25 remaining. But the Centaurs didn't flinch. McGuire pulled off a gravity-defying circus catch to extend the final drive. Wright: "We were able to drive down the field. Kevin McGuire makes an awesome one-handed catch on fourth down-and-five to get the first down."

"Then Charles Ross goes up in between two defenders and catches the ball in the corner of the end zone. It was a perfectly thrown pass by Jonathan. It was just awesome to see." Barillas tied it 49-49 as the crowd echoed the pressure of his extra-point kick.

The endgame was near. Covina prevailed. "I though their coaching staff did a great job of game-planning and executing how they wanted to attack us. They did a great job of end-game adjustments. That two-point conversion was the difference in the game," concluded Wright.

Fred Altieri

Brandon Oum (22) runs as Kevin McGuire (2) blocks

"We have a great coaching staff that works very hard. But ultimately the players deserve a lot of the credit. Because of their work effort, their attitude and their character we were able to achieve a lot. I'm definitely proud of what we accomplished. It's a great group of young men with great parents. It's just been a great ride."

The game marked the end of an incredible three-year run by the Centaur senior class as well as their teammates. The three-dozen or so games were nothing less than spectacular. Public high school athletes redefining sports entertainment. A new standard was set by the Class of '18. Stories and memories worth their weight...


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