Culver City football wins Bay League championship
April 15, 2021
Showtime Centaurs! Bay League Champions! For the first time in a decade Bay League Football has a new champion as Culver City High rallied to beat perennial power Palos Verdes High, 42-28, last Friday, April 9, on Senior Night at Jerry Chabola Stadium. The Centaurs won the physical thriller over the now-former nine-time defending Champion Sea Kings, an instant classic that was decided in the final minutes.
The Centaurs will finish their season this coming Friday, April 16, when they host the Apple Valley Sun Devils. Both teams are undefeated with 4-0 records and similarly ranked. The Sun Devils dominated the Mojave River League, handily beating all four league opponents in this shortened season. The game replaced a previously scheduled home game on the same date with Santa Monica High.
"This was another classic battle where both teams are well-coached, good players on both sides and it was a great game and a war," said Jahmal Wright, Culver City head coach talking about the game against Palos Verdes. "They are very physical. That's their brand of football. That's how they play. We were able to match that, and we have more athleticism and speed on the back end."
"They were a very physical team," said Centaur wide receiver Legend Waring. "I have a lot of respect for Palos Verdes and give them credit because they played a really good game, as well. They brought a lot out of us to play at a higher level than we had all season. We were playing for the League Championship this year and the fact that we were able to accomplish our goal really meant a lot to us."
That athleticism and speed was highlighted by a couple of lightning bolts struck by Emari Pait on both sides of the ball in the deciding fourth quarter. Pait's electrifying 47-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Zevi Eckhaus put the Centaurs ahead for the first time, 34-28, at 8:41 in the fourth quarter. He then slammed the door shut on the Sea Kings next drive deep into Culver City territory with an explosive 95-yard interception return for a touchdown with only a few minutes left in the game.
The game's two key drives occurred at the end of each half. The Centaurs came out on top both times. Palos Verdes' third touchdown in the first half spurred a last-minute drive by Culver City's hi-octane offense that completely changed the momentum of the game. The clincher was the Centaurs defense throwing down the gauntlet when the Sea Kings marched and moved to within 25 yards of the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes of the game.
Pait's go-ahead touchdown that sent the COVID-limited home crowd into a frenzy set the stage for the Palos Verdes' unsuccessful deciding drive. "We had a little play-action, so we were able to hold the linebackers and safeties a little longer than they wanted to for a play like that. They left Emari one-on-one. In my eyes, that's completion ten times out of ten. I'm going to take that opportunity every time. He made a really great catch" said Eckhaus.
Only down by only six points, Palos Verdes methodically marched to the 25-yard line while eating up precious time. Defensive tackle Adrian Simon: "We were telling each other we got to stop them. We can't let up. We got to play these downs like they're our last downs and come out on top." Pait reiterated: "We got this. Got to get off the field." That's just what I was telling them. "We got to get off the field."
Simon and the Centaurs made their initial impact on 2nd-and-10: "I was covering as he was about to throw the screen. When he was about to throw it he kind of let go and they (referees) called a fumble. He picked it up and Aaron Salas was right there to sack him. He only had one man and he was covered, so he had nobody else to throw it to. He panicked a little and fumbled. We got the sack."
That set the stage for 3rd-and-27, forcing the Sea Kings into a passing situation with Pait assessing the development. "I see the quarterback roll to his right and I see two receivers, one going deep and one going one-on-one with my corner (Jagger Williams). I didn't pick one right away. I'm still in my back-peddle, shuffling, shuffling, shuffling out. Then I finally see him release the ball and I run straight to where the ball is. I see the ball in the air, and I was like yeah. I had a great feeling I was going to catch it."
It took an offensive adjustment and only 67 seconds for the tide to completely change after Palos Verdes increased its lead to 21-6 with a mere 1:14 remaining in the second quarter and its well-represented fanbase sensing early victory signs. The Sea Kings grinding ground attack had so far controlled the tempo and kept the Centaur offense off the field. Enter senior running back Ayinde Bankole.
"We were trying to incorporate the run so we could add some play action later on in the game. We weren't too worried about time. We practice these type of scenario's every week," said Eckhaus. Waring added, "Ayinde's super physical, works extremely hard and brings it all to the table. He's a great athlete. He and D.J. Powell set it up with our running game. Bankole's punishing runs put the ball at midfield so Eckhaus could leverage his receivers."
A pass to Pait put the Centaurs in the red zone with 12 seconds remaining. His 16-yard touchdown pass to Waring with seven seconds on the clock cut the lead to 21-9 at halftime. "He made a double move. He faked like he was going for the corner and come to a post. He had a great route. He sold the safety perfectly and came wide open for that touchdown," said Eckhaus.
Waring continued to say, "I had run a couple of corner routes earlier in the game and I noticed that the free safety was coming down on them really hard. So, we talked about it with Coach Wright the drive before and decided the next drive we're going to do a corner post. We knew when we got down to the goal line that the safety was going to come down on me."
With the momentum and using a balanced attack to open the second half, Eckhaus hit Waring with a 13-yarder for his second touchdown pass of the game to cut the lead to 21-18. Culver City's three-point deficit lasted exactly 14 seconds as the Sea Kings Jadon Douglas returned the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
But the Centaurs offense was just warming up in the second half and they responded with a 76-yard drive culminating with Eckhaus' one-yard reaching dive over the top of Sea Kings' goal line stand. Culver City only trailed 28-26 after Eckhaus ran in the two-point conversion with 4:30 left in the third quarter. Just like the offense the Centaur's defense was starting to take a toll on Palos Verdes' offense.
"When they went away from the run game and started throwing the ball, that's when we kind of got an edge and stopped them from scoring," said Simon. "We started containing their rushing game in the third quarter. They kept running #30 (Dominic Ciolino). We kept hitting him. He started to get tired. We're a conditioned team. They run huddle, we run no huddle. They had kids going both ways and they were just tired. They couldn't keep up."
Pait added, "Basically, we got four down linemen and four backers. We executed and played every snap hard and tried to get a stop to give the offense back the ball. That was our goal. Give the offense the ball as much as possible, because if our offense gets the ball, we can score points."
"We treated this as our championship game and to be able to win it feels good," said Eckhaus. "It was a great example of where Culver City's been the past four years, just a very talented team that's able to go four quarters and more times than not be on the winning side of that scoreboard."
Friday's matchup with Apple Valley has the look and feel of a highly competitive CIF Playoff game. The Sun Devils have a balanced attack but trail the Centaurs in offensive averages. The biggest discrepancy is in passing game where Culver City averages 368.8 yards per game compared to 170.5 yards per game for Apple Valley. The Centaurs also enjoy an edge in rushing, averaging 150.5 yards per game versus 117.5 for the Sun Devils.
"They're a very good team that plays with a lot of pride. They have a lot of size. They're physical. So, it's going to be another rock 'em sock 'em, tough, hard-nosed fought game. We're treating it as kind of a bowl game," said Wright.
"We've been watching their film," said Waring. "They're athletic and a really big team. It should definitely be a showdown on Friday. We're approaching the game as if it's one of our Regional Playoff games."
Simon views the matchup from a defensive perspective. "It's nothing we haven't seen before. They (Apple Valley) have the same kind of game they (Palos Verdes) had. Just run, run, run, run. It's going to be rewarding to see all the hard work pay off to win our final game. And at least I get to play one last game with my brothers. Just enjoy the last one."