Centaurs Beat Chino Hills in CIF Round 2

Culver City Hosts St. Paul This Friday in Semifinals Clash

No doubt about it, the Centaur football machine keeps revving up for the CIF Division 5 Playoffs at home or on the road. After spotting host Chino Hills High an opening game touchdown and trailing 21-7 early in the second quarter, Culver City High's defense got serious while their offense shifted into high gear to inundate the Huskies, 62-35.

"I give kudos to our team for being able to keep its composure and not panicking. We went one play at a time until we were able to climb back into the game and take control," said Culver City head coach Jahmal Wright.

"We have to give a lot of credit to the Chino Hills coaching staff and team. They came out with a good game plan, were excited to meet us and it showed. That being said, we took their best shot, were able to regroup, catch our bearings and execute our game plans."

The Centaurs will now prepare for perennial playoff-bound St. Paul High of Santa Fe Springs this Friday night, November 22, 7:00 p.m. at Jerry Chabola Stadium for the 2019 Division 5 Semifinals contest. St. Paul advanced to the Semi's by outlasting Yorba Linda High, 28-16, last Friday, scoring a touchdown in each quarter.

The Swordsmen won the Del Rey League this season while compiling an 11-1 overall record. They have plenty of experience at this level, having also reached the Division 5 Semifinals last season. They lost that contest to eventual 2018 Champion, Lawndale High, 20-7. The Centaurs last met St. Paul in the 2007 CIF Semifinals, losing a heartbreaker, 32-26, in double overtime.

Friday night in Chino Hills, the Huskies scored 13 seconds into the game on a 94-yard kickoff return by Damin Sanford. The Centaurs tied it at 7-7 when quarterback Zevi Eckhaus connected with Makai Cope for a 15-yard touchdown reception. Chino Hills used a punishing ground attack led by Rayce Thornton's 48-yard scoring romp to take a 14-7 lead after the first quarter.

They added an 8-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to lead 21-7 as the home crowd rejoiced with 6:07 remaining in the half. However, the tide would soon shift and strike as quick as a tsunami. "We had a slow start but we got together, came out stronger and addressed our weakness. We stopped their run and when they passed the ball we got interceptions, fumbles and started scoring," said Culver senior lineman Richard Farias.

Eckhaus and company initiated the comeback with a 59-yard drive, ending with running back Ayinde Bankole's one-yard run to cut the lead to 21-14 at 4:39. "We stayed calm. We know that no matter what we're going to come out strong. We don't worry about the scoreboard. We act like the scoreboard is 0-0 no matter what," said Bankole.

25 seconds later Chris Miller recovered and returned a fumble to the Huskie 38-yard line. On the very next play, Eckhaus hit wide receiver Legend Waring near the left sideline. Waring sprinted diagonally across the field and into the far right corner of the end zone. With Chino Hills threatening to score on their next drive, Miller picked off a pass in Culver City's corner of the end zone with 1:01 left in the half.

"That was huge. They were driving. It was third-and-long and they tried to hit a pass over the top and Chris Miller was able to get underneath the corner route and intercept the ball. It was a pretty tough interception as he also had to keep his feet in bounds," said Coach Wright.

"We pride ourselves on having a powerful, explosive offense. If we have time left on the clock, we feel that one minute is more than enough time for us to be able to get down the field. We're going to take advantage of it. We stayed aggressive and it paid off for us."

It took six plays for the Centaurs to march 80 yards to take their first lead of the game at 28-21. Eckhaus ran six yards for the score with 4.2 seconds on the halftime clock. The home team and the crowd were visibly and audibly stunned by the five-minute onslaught.

Bankole: "Every halftime, no matter what, we always act like the score is zero-zero. We felt like this game wasn't over until we're blowing them out or if it's the last play of the game. So every play we're going 100% until the end."

The Centaurs increased the lead to 35-21 at 6:07 of the third quarter with a 59-yard touchdown strike from Eckhaus to Emari Pait, who broke a tackle and raced the last 40 yards untouched. Chino Hills wasn't giving up as they responded with a 4-yard touchdown run at 2:26 to cut the lead to seven points again.

"We gathered up the defense and said: "Man, we got to go crazy. This is a big game. Let's play hard, strong." So that's what we did, played harder and stronger," said Farias. Culver's next possession was an unlikely key to their runaway victory.

The Centaurs were punting on fourth down from their own 15-yard line when Chino Hills was called for penalty as they roughed up punter Matthew Lopez. The reprieve allowed Culver City to move to the Huskie 4-yard line in two plays, an 18-yard run by Bankole and a 48-yard bomb to Miller. Bankole ran up the middle on the next play for a 41-28 lead.

"I just got outside, used my speed. Our line blocked for me and helped me make plays. I get my checkdowns and Zevi gives me the ball," said Bankole. "We thought we had control of the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter but we just kept playing. When we started marching down and scoring, we got faster and they started slowing down. They weren't able to keep up with us."

Emari Pait killed the last Huskie rally with an interception at 8:35 in the fourth quarter. 35 seconds later Tanner Duve caught a 31-yard touchdown pass. Culver City kept the floodgates open in fourth quarter with a 91-yard drive. On third-and-nine from their own 10-yard line Eckhaus hit wide receiver Tanner Duve with a bomb that went for 65-yards.

Wright: "Our offensive front line did a great job. Chino Hills played an aggressive style of defense. They blitzed on almost every play. Our offensive line was able to hold up and give Zevi time to throw the ball and open up holes for our running backs to run the ball as well."

Bankole then scored his third touchdown of the game on a 17-yard pitch and run. Three minutes later Miller caught a 4-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone. The score culminated a 55-7 run by the Centaurs. Chino Hills scored one last touchdown late in the game as both teams used their reserves.

Offensive Stats: Zevi Eckhaus completed 29 of 49 passes for 564 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 47 yards on nine carries and one running touchdown. Ayinde Bankole ran for 62 yards on 10 carries and three rushing touchdowns. Mekhi Evans-Bey rushed for 13 yards on three carries while Nolan Halloran ran for 12 yards on two carries.

Tanner Duve and Chris Miller caught nine passes each to lead the Centaurs. Duve had 191 yards total while Miller had 183 receiving yards. Emari Pait caught four passes for 95 yards, Makai Cope had three receptions for 36 yards and Legend Waring caught one pass for 37 yards. Each of the five receivers caught one touchdown pass.

Mekhi Evans-Bey caught one pass for eight yards and Bankole had two receptions for four yards. Matthew Lopez converted six successful extra-point kicks and punted twice for a 36-yard average. Waring returned four kickoffs for 78 yards while Bankole returned one kickoff for 19 yards. Emari Pait also had a two-point conversion.

Defensively, Max Crosner and Elijah Lindsey led the team in tackles with 11 each. Lindsey had 11 solo tackles and Crosner had 10 solos. Crosner also had two tackles for loss. Isaiah Williams had nine tackles including five solo tackles. Williams also had the team's only quarterback sack. Antonio Moten had seven total tackles and four solos. Richard Farias, Khary Crump and Pait each had five tackles.

Chris Miller and Emari Pait also had one interception each with Pait returning his for 30 yards. David Naranjo, Adrian Simon and Chris Miller each had four tackles while Bankole had three tackles. Nolan Halloran, Quinton Chapman, Jagger Williams and Aaron Salas had two tackles each. Makai Cope, Ethan Harris, Collin Dixson, Andrew Jacobo, C. Dubriel and Blake Kneebone had one tackle each.

The focus is now on Friday night's contest with St. Paul. Given the Playoff stakes, it will be the Centaurs' toughest test of the year. "We know they're a team that has a lot of pride in their program. Historically, they're a very physical football team. They were in the Semifinals of the Division 5 Playoffs last year," said Wright.

"They have a lot of experience coming back. They only have one loss on the season. They have a couple of good running backs. We expect them to try to run the ball right at us and create big plays in their running game and try to keep our offense off the field. So, it's going to be a tough game."


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