Culver City battles Palos Verdes for the Bay league title

The Bay League Championship is on the line this Friday evening, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. as Culver City High hosts nine-time defending League Champion Palos Verdes High at Jerry Chabola Stadium on the high campus. The Centaurs and the Sea Kings are tied for the League lead, both with 3-0 records and have split the last two contests between each other, including a thrilling 55-52 double-overtime Culver City victory in 2019.

The Centaurs remained undefeated in their first season in the Bay League by shutting out Peninsula High, 49-0, last Friday afternoon at the Rolling Hills Estates campus. The game was a milestone for senior Culver City quarterback Zevi Eckhaus who broke the school's all-time passing yardage record of 9,356 yards set by Darius Banks, who graduated in 2008. Eckhaus' now has 9,430 total yards with two games left in his high school career.

Culver City won the 2019 Ocean League title and are now threatening Palos Verdes' Bay League domination over the past decade. The Sea Kings have an astounding 47-1 league record since 2011, with their only defeat coming against Mira Costa High in 2016. Culver City and Palos Verdes are followed in the league standings by Mira Costa, Peninsula and Redondo Union, all with 1-3 records. Santa Monica High is in last place with an 0-3 record.

"Palos Verdes is a great team," said Centaur head coach Jahmal Wright. "They won the Bay League nine years in a row. They're undefeated in League and they beat Mira Costa, a team we barely beat, by 20 points, there are a formidable opponent and we're excited about the challenge."

Eckhaus reiterated: "I'm more focused about this team and the opponent's aspect of how they win the game. And we're going to try our best to prevent that from happening. No Playoffs, no CIF or State Championships, so we have to make with what we've got, and for us, that's winning the Bay League Championship."

The Sea Kings lost their opening game of the season, a non-league affair to Corona del Mar, 38-21. Last Friday, they rallied in the second half against Redondo Union, scoring twice in the last three minutes of the game and converting a last-minute field goal to edge the Sea Hawks, 16-14, and remain undefeated going into this weekend's clash with the Centaurs.

Palos Verdes is predominantly a run-oriented offense. Not including stats from the Redondo win, they have rushed 438 total yards in 85 carries, and have passed for 300 total yards on 24 of 47 passing attempts. "They're a great team all-around, athletes, great running back, great running game and a great coaching staff. They're always going to bring it. We just have to be the better team," said Centaur defensive tackle Adrian Simon.

Culver wide receiver Legend Waring: "We have a lot of respect for Palos Verdes. We're going to study our film and work our battle plan. We wanted to make sure that in our first year in the Bay League that we send a message to everybody else that we're here. A League Championship will mean a lot to us once we accomplish our goal."

The Centaurs offense rolled early against the Panthers at Peninsula as wide receiver Emari Pait caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Eckhaus one minute and 22 seconds from the opening kickoff. Running back Ayinde Bankole soon added to Peninsula's woes with a scintillating 68-yard touchdown run up the right sideline at 8:06 in the first quarter.

Eckhaus continued to say, "Oh, he was fast. Once he hit that second level, it was pretty much done from there. That was the second drive of the game and that definitely put Peninsula on their heels, had them change up their offense and doing things that they didn't want to do." Minutes later, Eckhaus hooked up with Pait again for a 58-yard touchdown pass and a 21-0 lead. Then once again, Pait caught his third touchdown pass at 9:18 in the second quarter with a 7-yard pass in the right corner of the end zone, out jumping and taking the ball away from the defender.

"The jump ball was coming to me after Zevi and I made eye contact. The defender tried to play me outside, so I had to muscle him, get outside of him but still saving space to catch the ball and stay in bounds. He was all over me but I'm way bigger. The ball is high and I go up and grab it. He can't out jump me," said Pait.

"The plays were designed for me to get beyond the defense. When Coach calls the play, I know that I have to run fast and get past the defense. I just get behind them and look for the ball. The balls in the air and I just catch it. I was running regular routes, nothing special."

Following the kickoff, senior cornerback Jagger Williams intercepted a Panthers' pass on their first play from scrimmage. After a 17-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Ethan Harris put the ball on Peninsula's one-yard line, Eckhaus ran it in for his second rushing touchdown of the season. The Centaurs led 34-0 with 8:10 remaining in the first half.

The game's highlight occurred at the end of the first half with the Panthers sitting first-and-goal at the Centaur four-yard line. Safety William Shultz broke up a pass in the end zone on first down. That's when Simon, Pait and the rest of the starters reentered the game to preserve the shutout. The result was three straight Peninsula power runs up middle that were stopped dead cold.

"It was impressive. It's always great when the defense doesn't let the other team touch the end zone. Coach Wright said in the beginning that we wanted a shutout and that we have to bring it to them. We were thinking, don't get pushed back. Just fire straight out and make the play in the backfield. I knew they weren't going to get into the end zone. I knew it from the beginning," said Simon.

Waring revealed, "Emari was on the sideline next to me when Peninsula was driving. When they were on the four-yard line he said: "I've got to go back in. We can't let them score." Once he and AD (Adrian Simon) and Antonio (Moten) were going to go back in, I knew that we were going to stop them from scoring that touchdown."

"When they got that first down I said I have to go back in there. I can't let them score. We need our first donut of the season. We were focused on the run. We watch film and saw what they like to do on the goal line. When they get it close to the goal line, we know they were going to run. It's rare that they're going to pass the ball on the goal line, based on the film. We've gotten way better at run defense in the red zone," said Pait.

The Centaurs wrapped up the scoring with two more touchdowns in the second half. Pait caught his fourth touchdown pass of the game, a 29-yard pass from Eckhaus at 7:15 in the third quarter. It was the second consecutive four-touchdown reception game for Pait, continuing a pattern set by Waring when he caught four touchdown passes in the season-opening win over Mira Costa.

D.J. Powell scored the final touchdown at 6:20 in the fourth quarter, taking the handoff, cutting back along the right sideline and bursting through the Panther defense for a with a 38-yard touchdown run. "We love it when D.J. scores. He's one of the younger guys on the team, so whenever he can get into the end zone, we're super happy because we know how much it means to him. And we love to see what he's going to do," said Wright.

Peninsula threatened to score a few more times in the second half only to be denied by a staunch Centaur defense. Junior cornerback Jaylen Mongomery and junior safety Prince Okorie also had interceptions. Okorie returned his steal 23-yards. Senior cornerback Myles Holloway and senior middle linebacker Quinten Brunson led the team defense with 10 tackles each. The team recorded 10 tackles for losses.

Simon shared props for his defensive teammates: "Jagger Williams had a nice game against Peninsula. He's relentless. He doesn't hold back. He's always around the football. He's just there doing his job. Emari is one of the best on defense, if not the best. Cole Ward, Quinten Brunson, of course, and Dylan Nichols are also doing a great job."

Defense will be certainly be the difference when the Centaurs take on Palos Verdes this Friday. "Practice was great today," said Simon. "It was long as we prepare for P.V. Monday is more of an install date, Tuesday is offense and Wednesday is both. On Thursday we go over everything. We go over the opponent's offense, their tendencies, watch what they do the most, try our best to know what to call and be ready for it."

"They'll come playing hard and they're going to fight to the last second, for sure. We know they're going to run the ball. But we feel good about ourselves and our chances against them, said Pait."

Wright concluded: "This is our Championship. This is the biggest game of the year and we're treating it like that."

The End


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