By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

St Paul Knocks Culver City out of Playoffs

Strong Defense Disrupts Centaurs Passing Attack

 

December 5, 2019

George Laase

Lineman Aaron Salas recovers an early St Paul fumble leading to a field goal.

Turn out the Friday Night lights... there was no joy at Culver City High School last Friday as the 2019 football season came to an abrupt end. The previously undefeated Centaurs were upset by St. Paul High at home, 14-10, in the CIF Division 5 Semifinals match at Jerry Chabola Stadium. The game was a throwback to days of yore when running games dominated and scores were low.

The Swordsmen (12-1) employed a power rushing game plan and stuck with it. The Centaurs (12-1) entered the game as one of the most explosive offenses in the State, predominantly relying on their imposing aerial attack. Yet, St. Paul was able to apply pressure and disrupt the Centaurs' passing attack that averaged 51 points per game.

The Centaurs had one last chance to pull out a victory in the final two minutes of the game. Remarkably, their defense was able to stop St. Paul's extended drive deep into Culver territory, forcing the Swordsmen to punt the ball on fourth down. Culver City's offense had to feel somewhat confident, having rallied in a number of games over the past few seasons with game-winning drives.


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Deep in their own territory, quarterback Zevi Eckhaus completed an apparent first down pass at the Culver City 35-yard line. However, the Centaurs sixth penalty of the game was their final costly one, moving the team to a 2nd-and-13 situation with 1:22 on the clock. On the very next play, Eckhaus was pressured out of the pocket. He moved right to create space but was driven to the ground, forcing a fumble that was recovered by St. Paul.

The Swordsmen kneeled the ball for two plays, running out the clock and with it the Centaurs once-perfect season. Ultimately, Culver City failed to capitalize on critical possessions throughout the game, uncharacteristically dropping passes while suffering inopportune penalties. They turned the ball over four times to the St. Paul defense with two fumbles and two interceptions.

In an interesting contrast, the Swordsmen suffered only one turnover. They lost a fumble recovered by Centaur defensive linebacker Aaron Salas at their own 19-yard line on their very first possession. It was a 2nd-and-ten mistake just 43 seconds into the game that could have spelled early doom. Unfortunately for the Centaurs, they couldn't punch in a touchdown from the four-yard line. Kicker Matthew Lopez converted a 22-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead at 10:42.

Both teams exchanged scoreless possessions with Culver City having reached midfield at one point. But a holding call moved them back, forcing a punt. St. Paul took over at their 34-yard line at 3:24 of the first quarter and marched 66 yards into the second quarter. They scored on a 7-yard run by Trenell Ridgley to take a 7-3 lead at 9:44.


Culver City took over on their 38-yard line and proceeded to march. Running back Ayinde Bankole rushed for 13 yards and a first down. Two plays later Bankole bulldozed his way for another first down to the St. Paul 37-yard line. On the very next play Bankole again rushed for 14 yards to the 23-yard line. Next, wide receiver Chris Miller caught a 12-yard pass to the 11-yard line.

Eckhaus then completed a pass to wide receiver Dylan Clark at the 3-yard line. Consummating the scoring drive Eckhaus completed a pass on a fine catch in the back of the end zone by Miller. The Centaurs regained the lead 10-7 with 7:28 left in the half as Lopez converted the extra-point attempt. It was a classic Culver City drive that was more reflective of its season-long exploits.

Little did both sides realize that it would be the last points Culver City would score in the game. The Centaurs seemed to get into rhythm as their defense was able to successfully stop St. Paul's formidable running attack again. But the Swordsmen were still eating up valuable time on the clock while limiting the Centaur offensive possessions and field position.

Culver City looked to increase their lead going into halftime as they took over at their 37-yard line with 5:25 remaining. Yet, a couple of dropped passes starting creeping into the offense. On 4th-and-three near midfield Eckhaus managed to run for a first down. Three plays later a dropped pass for first down resulted in a punt. The half ended with the Centaurs clinging to a 10-7 lead.


The Centaurs opened the third quarter with the ball and quickly moved near midfield on two passes for first-down to Miller. On the very next play Eckhaus avoided a sack and completed a short pass to Bankole. Bankole made a couple of sweet jukes along the left sideline and torched the St. Paul defense with a 55-yard touchdown run. The crowd was cheering as they sensed another strong Culver second half performance.

There was only one problem, though. Another penalty flag came flying down, negating the insurance points and literally taking all the wind out of the home crowd bleachers and the team. Two plays later the Swordsmen intercepted Eckhaus' pass and returned it to the Culver 37-yard line. The Centaur defense stopped St. Paul's scoring drive as their 45-yard field goal attempt missed wide left.

The Centaurs received their costliest miscue on their next possession. A short pass to Miller somehow ended up with fumble recovery by St. Paul despite a seemingly recovery by Culver City. Lady Luck was not on their side as St. Paul took over. After a dozen plays sprinkled with numerous flags Swordsman quarterback Gene Valdez ran around the right side for an 18-yard touchdown at 1:57 of the third quarter and the final lead.

On the Centaurs next drive, they moved to midfield. On first down Eckhaus threw a deep ball intended for Chris Miller. The ball got deflected and appeared to hit the ground. But the ruling on the field was an interception, giving the ball to St. Paul at their 11-yard line at 1:05 in the third quarter. Remarkably, the Swordsmen would keep possession of the ball for the next 11 minutes and 5 seconds. The Centaurs never recovered as their playoff dreams dissipated into the night.

George Laase

Linebackers Antonio Moten (11) and Isaiah Williams (10) stop the St Paul runner for a loss.

 

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