Culver City football plays a rare daytime game
April 1, 2021
Two down, three to go. Despite the abbreviated schedule due to COVID, Culver City High School football is making the most of its inaugural season in the Bay League. The Centaurs overwhelmed Redondo Union, 55-12, last Friday night home-opener at Jerry Chabola Stadium to remain tied for first with Palos Verdes High, each undefeated at 2-0.
"We were clicking on all cylinders. With everything that we've been through with the layoff, shortened preseason and not a lot of practice time, to execute and put up 55 points, it's impressive," said Centaur head coach Jahmal Wright during a telephone interview this week. "I was proud of the enthusiasm, camaraderie and the leadership we had, as well. It was gratifying as a coach."
The Centaurs' reputation as an offensive powerhouse is well-deserved. Yet, defense was on the team captains' minds following the 8-touchdown blitz over the Sea Hawks. "When we have people like Adrian Simon coming at them every play, and people in the secondary like Emari (Pait), Jagger (Williams) and Myles (Holloway), it's a pretty tough position for a quarterback to be in," said quarterback Zevi Eckhaus, who threw five touchdowns in the win.
Overall, Culver City's defense held Redondo to two field goals and one short touchdown run in the second quarter set up by a bad punt snap. Wide receiver Legend Waring spelled out the defensive core: "Adrian Simon is a monster. He is in the backfield every single play. I believe he should be playing Division I FBS football somewhere. At linebacker, we have Antonio Moten, Aaron Salas, Quinten Brunson, they've been holding it down in the middle of the field."
Senior defensive tackle Adrian Simon appreciates his role as one of the captains: "Definitely being a leader and getting my guys going. Being more physical and faster have been my biggest strengths. I put a lot of work in the weight room and with physical conditioning, work on hand-eye coordination."
Waring continued to say, "We have Emari Pait going to Fresno State. He's our main leader on the defensive side. He makes sure that everybody is in the correct position. With Jagger Williams and Myles Holloway also locking down the top outside receivers, our defense has really helped our offense because they have made up for the mistakes that we've made on offense."
Simon likes the talent around him. "We have a lot of size upfront. Linebackers, Cole Ward, he's a great guy and always seems to find the ball. Emari Pait, just some freak athletes out there. It's a team effort. Defense wins championships. We just get out there, do our job and make sure the other team gets no yards and no touchdowns. Then it's a good day."
Waring scored the first touchdown at 5:16 in first quarter with a remarkable 26-yard grab in a crowded corner of the end zone. He took a hard fall to the synthetic turf but held on to the ball. "Legend is one of those receivers who doesn't mind putting his body on the line. So, he just focused on that ball and Zevi threw a great pass. It was an awesome catch in a lot of traffic," said Wright.
Waring gave his teammates props for the play: "It was an incredible pass by Zevi. He threw the ball in the perfect position. I actually should have gone up for it and caught it. But he put it right in the breadbasket. I also want to give credit to Emari for taking the safety out of the play to make it open for me. I definitely took a hit on that one but I'm glad we got the seven points for the team."
Running back Ayinde Bankole caught a pass and worked the right sideline for a 15-yard touchdown to give Culver City a 14-3 lead at 10:46 of the second quarter. Following a seven-yard Sea Hawk touchdown run, Eckhaus directed three drives to put the game away by haftime, including his 39-yard dash into the end zone by Eckhaus, good for a 21-9 lead at 7:14. "Just doing what Coach Wright taught me. As the play developed, I made the read how I was taught to do and the result was a touchdown," said Eckhaus.
Next, a 73-yard scoring pass from Eckhaus to Pait was the first of three consecutive touchdowns from the duo. Pait caught the ball, shook a sideline tackle and bolted the remaining 60-yards into the end zone at 3:01. "Zevi dropped back, I saw him look at me and seeing that I was in front of the defender. I saw the ball in the air, was just running and waiting for it to drop so I could catch it," said Pait with a laugh. He also scored seconds before the end of the first half with a 26-yard catch-and-run, avoiding multiple tackles for a 35-9 lead.
"Me and Zevi have the connection and timing. He doesn't even tell me but I get a sense before the play that the ball is going to come to me. But sometimes he might give me a look, and I know. We're tight and we're locked in. After the games we talk about how we can do better on the plays, watch film and practice," said Pait.
Less than two minutes into the third quarter the duo completed the trifecta as Pait caught a short pass near the right sideline and ran past a half dozen Redondo defenders for a 62-yard touchdown and a 42-9 lead. Bankole scored his second touchdown late in the third quarter, a 30-yard run through the right side. The Sea Hawks kicked a 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter before Centaur running back Deshunn (DJ) Powell ran 47 yards for the final score seconds before the end of the game. Kicker Diego Caldera converted all seven of his extra point attempts.
"The thing that makes our offense explosive is the tempo that we go at," said Pait. "We go at a fast pace so we don't give the defense time or react to what we are doing. We still have to execute but that fast pace catches the defense off-guard."
Offensively, Eckhaus completed 18 of 25 attempts for 413 yards and five touchdown passes. He also ran for 44 yards and one touchdown. Bankole rushed for 111 yards on nine carries, caught two passes for 17 yards and two touchdowns. DJ Powell ran for 92 yards on nine carries and one touchdown, while Jasani Pitts had one carry for two yards.
Pait led all receivers with six catches for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Powell caught four passes for 66 yards, Holloway made three receptions for 39 yards. Waring caught two passes for 42 yards, including one touchdown. Elijah Adams caught one pass for 13 yards and a first down.
"Zevi is the ultimate leader," said Waring. "Any time he says something, we're all paying attention, we're all listening. And we believe what he's saying. He does a great job of leading not just our offense, but our entire team and preparing us for what's going to come."
The three games remaining on the season schedule is not lost on Simon: "It's been a great experience. Great brotherhood. Great coaching staff. It's all good things and I couldn't ask for more. We don't only want to do our best but have fun doing it. Especially for the seniors. We started off as freshmen and grew up together. We're brothers now."
The Centaurs will play their third Bay League game at Peninsula High this Friday at 3:30 p.m. April 2. The Panthers, from Rolling Hills Estates, are tied for third with a 1-1 record. They lost 10-7 to Redondo (1-1) in Week 1 before taking out Santa Monica High (0-2), 13-7, last Friday. Culver City beat Peninsula, 60-21, the last time both teams met in 2019. But the Centaurs are not taking the Panthers lightly, knowing they have only yielded 17 total points in two games this season.
"Peninsula is going to be a formidable foe. We're going to have to execute our game plan. They're a physical team, so we're going to have to match their intensity," said Wright. Waring noted: "We make sure we bring the intensity every single game, whether it's a walk-through or a padded practice. We make sure we give 110% and executing to our best ability so that we're prepared when Friday's come."
"Regardless of how they come out and play, we have a goal to win the game. We'll go into the game full-steam and do our best to come out with a victory. We'll be there at game time 3:30, ready to show and put out for the City," said Eckhaus.