Culver City wins its first league football game

High school football is back! Sixteen months after their last game, Culver City High christened their Bay League debut by rallying in the last minute on the road to beat an excellent Mira Costa High squad, 35-28, on a foggy, windy Friday night in Manhattan Beach last week, March 19. It was the first of five league games scheduled for the Centaurs this spring season after a seven-month delay due to COVID protocols that threatened to cancel the season entirely months before.

"It was definitely great to be out there and throw the football again, be with my teammates and coaches," said Zevi Eckhaus, senior quarterback for Culver City. "There are a lot of players on the roster that I truly believe deserve a scholarship. With these five games they have an opportunity to get that. Overall, I think we played well and well enough to win. So, that's the most important part."

The game was a well-fought seesaw battle. Eckhaus led the Centaurs on three scoring drives in the first half under visibly foggy conditions and damp air mixed with onshore winds. The Mustangs responded with two touchdowns in the second quarter and get some momentum to only trail 21-14 at halftime. Quarterback Casey Pavlick rallied the Mustangs for two more touchdowns in the third quarter giving Mira Costa a 28-21 lead.

Culver City rallied to tie the score, 28-28, with a long touchdown from Eckhaus to senior wide receiver Emari Pait up the right sideline just before the end of the third quarter. After an exchange of fourth quarter stops by both defenses, the Centaurs sealed the victory with a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Legend Waring with a mere 45 seconds on the clock.

"The victory means a lot, definitely," said Centaur head coach Jahmal Wright. "One, just being out on the field and actually playing, putting on the jersey and being able to compete, that meant a world to the boys. And to be able to win against a quality opponent when we're in a new league is icing on the cake, especially for the seniors."

Culver City took over possession of the ball for their final drive deep in Mira Costa territory after stopping the Mustangs offense on a 4th-and-two play with 2:23 left in regulation. A quarterback sack by linebackers Antonio Moten and Aaron Sales ended the Mustangs' drive. "I was surprised that Coach (Don) Morrow (Mira Costa head coach) decided to go for it on 4th-and-two in their own part of the field. I thought if we were able to get a stop on fourth down, it would put us in prime position to score," said Wright.

Mira Costa's hardened defense had allowed only one touchdown to Culver City's potent offense the entire second half. They pressured the Centaurs into a 3rd-and-5 situation before Waring caught a first-down pass at the Mustang 11-yard line. Pressured into a 2nd-and-15 situation following a five-yard penalty, Eckhaus delivered a perfect strike to Waring in back of the end zone with 45.2 seconds remaining.

"From a quarterback's perspective, I'm trying to look at matchups and personnel. I saw a great opportunity with Legend Waring, a great talent. The safety took too many steps in the wrong direction, and once he played there in order to make a play on Legend, he was going to have to plant really quickly and break out. Legend actually split both defenders perfectly. The ball sailed through the air just the way I wanted it to. And when he caught the ball, the only thing I was hoping for was that I'd see that ref throw his hands up."

Wright: "We called a play to take a shot that really wasn't there before. Legend Waring, who was having his way the whole night, we had talked about a play on the sidelines the series beforehand. We saw the coverage that we wanted, called that play and he was able to take advantage in the back of the end zone. I'm very proud of how we responded there."

Culver City opened the scoring with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Eckhaus to Waring at 1:56 in the first quarter. Junior kicker Diego Caldera converted the extra point, the first of five successful attempts for Caldera. The Centaurs regained possession in Mustang territory after recovering a punt return fumble by a Mira Costa receiver. Two plays later Pait caught a 25-yard touchdown pass for a 14-0 lead at 10:05 in the second quarter. Seven minutes later the Mustangs responded with a touchdown to trail 14-7.

After a deep bomb from Eckhaus to Waring set up Culver City in the Red Zone, they completed the daily-double with a 4th-and-goal touchdown pass to lead 21-7. Unfortunately for the Centaurs, Mira Costa grabbed the momentum and cut the lead to seven points going into halftime with a last second, 50-plus yard touchdown. That brought life to the select Mustang fans in the stands. Due to COVID restrictions, both teams were only allowed to invite the families of the players and coaches of each team to the game.

The Centaurs mounted their comeback when Mira Costa took a 28-21 lead with 1:32 to go in the third quarter. Eckhaus: "It kind of shifted gears. It gave us a wakeup call like Okay. This is a game. We have to get focused and really get into this. Not that we weren't focusing but we got hit with the bigger picture. If we don't react quickly, we can end up losing this game. Our offense, defense, special teams and coaching staff, we all pulled together, came together as a unit and helped us comeback in the end."

It took exactly 38 seconds for Culver City to tie the score. Eckhaus completed two short passed to Pait along the right sideline. Pait took the second pass, used his strength and speed to maneuver and scorch the Mustang secondary for 56 yards into the end zone.

"Mira Costa had a lot of respect for our speed, so they were playing their defensive backs far off," said Wright. "We thought we would throw a short pass to Emari Pait because that's what they were giving us. Emari is one of the better players in Southern California. He avoided the defensive back that came up upon him and then he was able to use his speed to take it the distance."

Eckhaus: "The line was protecting me well all game and Emari Pait was able to make a great play. He's a leader on our offense as well as our defense. That was our leader, putting his body out on the line for us. That play was not only big for the score but as well for our team for extra motivation."

Statistically, Eckhaus completed 29 of 36 passes for 419 yards and five touchdowns thrown. Bankole was the leading runner with 12 rushes for 51 yards. Waring was the leading receiver with 11 receptions for 231 yards and three touchdowns. Pait had nine receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. The Centaurs had a total of 33 passing plays and 24 rushing plays for 467 total yards.

Wright pointed out: "Adrian Simon was definitely our defensive MVP for the game." Simon had six total tackles, four solos, two assists, two sacks, one tackle for loss and one fumble caused. Defensive back Myles Holloway was the leading tackler with eight solo tackles and one interception. Moten had four solo tackles, three assists for seven total tackles and two sacks.

The Centaurs will host the Redondo Union this Friday, 7:00 p.m., March 26 at Jerry Chabola Stadium for their second Bay League contest of the season. The same protocol will remain in effect for fan attendance: both teams are only allowed to invite the families of the players and coaches of each team to the game. There will also not be any CIF Playoff games scheduled once the five-game league schedule is completed.

Redondo Union edged Peninsula High, 10-7, on the road last Friday. In the other Bay League Week 1 contest, Palos Verdes handled Santa Monica, 41-2. Culver City, Palos Verdes and Redondo Union are tied for first with 1-0 records each. Peninsula, Mira Costa and Santa Monica are tied for fourth with 0-1 records. The Centaurs' remaining schedule continues on through: Friday, April 2, at Peninsula; Friday, April 9, home vs. Palos Verdes; and Friday, April 16, home vs. Santa Monica.

With the challenges of competing due to extra securities, considerations and priorities to prepare for the shortened high school football season in Southern California, it also had an effect on the players overall game conditioning according to Wright. "One thing I noticed because of the short season and not having a lot of time for preparation, we are not in game-playing shape. As the game went on, we wore down a little bit."

"When you really don't have a lot of time to physically prepare your body and you're in the middle of the game, the body just breaks down a little bit. I thought we got tired. But I like our resilience. I like the way we were able to respond to adversity. We were really able to lean on our seniors, our senior leadership and all that experience to be able to pull out a tough, hard-fought victory."

The End


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