Centaurs Defeat West High 56-36 in Season Opener
Face Peninsula High Panthers Friday
September 5, 2019
Late August means one thing at Culver City High School... Centaur football is back. Last season's CIF Division 7 Champions began the 2019 season with a 56-36 road win at West High in Torrance last Friday night, Aug. 30. This Friday, they venture a few miles further south to Rolling Hills Estates to take on the Peninsula High Panthers.
The Centaurs have had success against Peninsula over the past decade, winning eight of nine games while scoring over 40 points in every single contest except for a 19-14 loss in 2015. Last season, Culver City dismantled the Panthers by their largest point total ever in the team series, 61-27. Culver City scored nine touchdowns in the win, racing to a commanding 41-17 halftime lead.
Defensively, the Centaurs had five quarterback sacks, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. They were led by a slew of talented seniors on offense: Joshua Ford, Kevin McGuire, Dominic Tatum, Jamal Glaspie, Malachi McMahon, Tyler Luckett and Allen Smith. Then-sophomore quarterback Zevi Echhaus threw three touchdowns for 225 yards.
Despite the loss of last year's senior talent, Culver City has plenty of skill filling in the slots this season. The Centaurs racked up 630 all-purpose against West Torrance last Friday. However, the game didn't start off the manner head coach Jahmal Wright, his staff or team expected.
"It was disappointing in how we started the game," said Wright. "I thought we would be a little sharper than what we were. But I was excited and encouraged on how we didn't panic. We were able to battle back and take full control of the game."
A couple of early interceptions by Eckhaus allowed the Warriors to jump out to 14-0 lead five minutes into the game. The first pick gave West High the ball at the Centaur 23-yard line. Two plays later cornerback Emari Pait intercepted a pass and returned it 80 yards for an apparent Centaur touchdown.
However, it was denied as Culver City was flagged for roughing the quarterback. A few plays later West took a 7-0 lead on a one-yard run. Following a second interception setting up West on the 10-yard line, the Warriors scored on another one-yard plunge plays later. The Centaurs were called for multiple penalties, negating defensive stops while keeping West's drives alive.
Midway through the first quarter, Culver City finally got their engine revved up with a 42-yard aerial bomb to wide receiver Tanner Duve, cutting the deficit to 14-6. The extra point kick attempt was blocked. With the Warriors driving deep one minute into the second quarter, Pait intercepted another pass at the 7-yard line and returned it to the Warrior 11-yard line.
Wright: "I think Emari Pait really stood out on defense. Once we settled in and the offense didn't put our defense in a bad situation, I thought our defense responded pretty well." On the next play Eckhaus again hooked up with Duve, who leaped to fight and snare an 11-yard touchdown.
The Centaurs took their first lead, 21-14, with a 70-yard drive culminating in Eckhaus rushing 15 yards up the middle at 4:45 of the second quarter. Two minutes later Running back Kekhi Evans-Bey, 2019 CIF D2 400-meter sprint champion, scored his first touchdown for as a Centaur. He took a lateral pitch and raced 48 yards down the left sideline, leaving all Warrior defenders in the dust.
On the very next play West kick returner, Jack Salmon, returned the kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead at halftime to 28-21.
"We had a couple of first-year varsity guys on the kickoff team and they messed up a little on their assignments. Not staying in their lane opened up an epic hole for the returner to run through," Wright said.
Stepping up after halftime was running back Ayinde Bankole. Last season's Frosh/Soph Ocean League champion in the 100 meters and 200 meters, Bankole took a short pass left, cut back across the grain and literally blazed a trail past everyone down the right sideline for a touchdown. Place holder Chris Miller ran a bad snap into the end zone for a two-point conversion to lead 36-21.
"Ayinde had an excellent track season and he's really been putting in some time," said Wright. It just paid off and he showed some speed. He ended up being the check-down receiver because West Torrance dropped all their guys deeper to cover our receivers. It was definitely a nice long run."
Following a Warrior fumble the Centaurs increased the lead to 42-21 on a 23-yard touchdown pass to Miller at 8:03. The Centaur defense joined in the scoring when linebacker Richard Moten stripped the ball from West quarterback, Camden Bendik. Lineman Richard Farias picked up the ball at the 30-yard line and rambled 70 yards into the end zone to the resounding cheers of his teammates.
Culver City scored its last touchdown again with the Eckhaus to Miller connection, a 49-yard bomb to Miller with 1:52 remaining in the third quarter. Kicker Matthew Lopez converted his sixth extra point of the game, giving the Centaurs a 56-21 lead. The Warriors scored two unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Culver City's defensive replacements with the clock running continuously.
"We had some backups in, and West had their starters in," concluded Wright. "They were able to execute, break some tackles and get a couple of touchdowns. These are non-league games, so we just want to make sure we're improving."
Friday's match at Peninsula High is not likely to be a cakewalk as last year's victory was. The Panthers beat a good El Segundo team, 31-13, one of Culver City High's main rivals over the past five years. Peninsula, with a 9-5 record last season, lost to Western High of Anaheim in the 2018 CIF Division 11 title match.
"Peninsula is well-coached, and they run a good scheme. They're coming off a CIF Finals appearance," said Wright. "They beat El Segundo last week, so they're going to come in ready to play on their home field. I hope we're up for the challenge."