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By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

Centaurs host Mustangs in huge Bay league game Friday


September 30, 2021

George Laase

Culver City's junior defensive tackle Charlie Butler gets his hands on a pass against La Serna last Friday night at Culver City.

Unexpectedly, the Centaurs took one on the chin last Friday night at home as they committed four turnovers to lose to a well-prepared La Serna High football team, 35-15. Culver City High finished the 2021 pre-league schedule with a 2-2 record and will now host their Bay League season opener against a forging Mira Costa squad. This is also a Homecoming Game for the Centaurs.

The Mustangs from Manhattan Beach also bring a deceptively 2-3 pre-league record to this Friday nights' game starting 7:00 p.m., October 1, at Jerry Chabola Stadium. Both schools have weathered formidable pre-league schedules in anticipation of their Bay League clash. Both expect to challenge for the league title along with Palos Verdes High.

Culver City and Mira Costa have played against two common opponents so far this season. West Torrance High and Loyola High of Los Angeles. Both teams mopped up West High. The Centaurs shutout the Warriors, 31-0, in the season opener on the road while the Mustangs smothered them at home, 40-14. However, Mira Costa fared much better against Loyola before coming up short, 34-31, at home last Friday. The Centaurs had a very rough outing at Loyola, getting swamped 62-21 on September 3.

"Mira Costa's a well-coached team and have a balanced offense. It's definitely going to be a tough, hard-nosed game," said Centaur head coach Jahmal Wright. "We look forward to the challenge in our Homecoming Game but it's not going to be easy." Last season was also a challenge as Culver City scored the only touchdown in the fourth quarter to edge out the Mustangs, 35-28.

The Centaurs got off to a poor start on the scoreboard against La Serna and never recovered before a packed crowd filling the bleachers. On the field, freshman quarterback Alonzo Esparza very efficiently moved the offense 63 yards in six plays to the Lancer 7-yard line. That effort was suddenly negated when Esparza ran right and threw an interception at the 3-yard line. The Lancers promptly drove 93 yards for a touchdown to lead 7-0 at 5:25 in the first quarter.

Culver City responded with a drive to the La Serna 28-yard line, but alas, the Lancers intercepted their second pass of the game in the end zone for a touchback. La Serna answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive to take a 13-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter, while missing the extra-point attempt. Again, the Centaurs drove deep into Lancer territory before Esparza was intercepted in the endzone on third-and-goal from the 13-yard line.

"I thought we were able to move the ball up and down the field. When we got into scoring territory, we had some unfortunate turnovers in the first half," said Wright. "The game could have been really different if we hadn't turned the ball over three times in the red zone. That really cost us the momentum and the game. "

La Serna used up plenty of clock with a ground game combined with some very timely third-down conversions to take a 19-0 lead with 4:44 remaining in the first half. The Centaurs successfully stopped the two-point conversion attempt. That motivated a seven play ground attack to finally get on the scoreboard as running back Jamiere Munson's 16-yard touchdown dash and kicker Diego Caldera's extra-point conversion cut the lead to 19-7 two minutes before halftime.

Taking a half-step backwards, the Centaurs gave up a 28-yard field goal with 15 seconds in the half to trail 22-7. Yet, they almost made up the difference with a 32-yard run by running back DeShunn Powell past midfield. With seven seconds to go Munson's 40-yard catch-and-run from the left to the right sideline came up just one defender and eight yards short of a touchdown.

Culver City's goal was to quickly get the ball back in the second half to stage a comeback. They did just that, forcing the Lancers' first punt of the game and get possession, again, just past midfield. But on fourth-and-long Esparza was pressured into his fourth interception of the game. La Serna followed with a touchdown drive to lead 28-7 at 5:18 in the third quarter.

Taking advantage of excellent field position Esparza threw his first touchdown of the game, a beautiful 30-yard strike to wide receiver Leo Matsuoka in the endzone at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Munson caught the two-point conversion pass to cut the deficit to 28-15.

"He's a competitive kid (Esparza) who really took the loss to heart," said Wright. "So, we as a coaching staff and as a team just wanted to pick him up so he's confident and let him know he's still our quarterback, and we're still behind him. But we do have some improving that we have to do."

But the Lancers answered with a long drive ending with a one-yard touchdown run for the final score. "They did a good job on third down, executing and getting first downs. Whether it was third-and-25, third-and-short, or third-and-15, they were able to convert those third downs to really keep things moving. That was the difference," said Wright.

"I thought we didn't get any pressure on the quarterback in passing situations. Our defensive backs who were in man-coverage are normally very good in man-coverage, were beat in man-coverage. So that was huge. Against Pasadena we had over 77 offensive plays, we only had 50 offensive plays on Friday night. That was because La Serna was able to extend long drives with their third-down conversions."

George Laase

Defensive back, William Schultz of Culver City leaps high to break up a sure touchdown pass against La Serna last Friday.

The Centaurs are defending Bay League Champions, having won the crown last year in their first season competing in the League. They were the Ocean League Champs in 2019, before transferring along with Santa Monica to the Bay League. With all of the schools in the league improving the strength of their pre-league schedule, it has been a rough season record wise for the members before the league starts this weekend.

Culver City is the only school in the Bay league to finish their pre-league schedule with a .500 record at 2-2. Peninsula High and Mira Costa both have 2-3 records while Santa Monica, Redondo Union and Palos Verdes finished at 1-4. Last season, Culver City took the title with a 4-0 record, edging out Palos Verdes who finished at 4-1. Mira Costa ended up in third place with a 3-2 record. Redondo Union placed fourth at 1-3, Peninsula was fifth at 1-4 while Santa Monica finished last with only an 0-3 record due to two cancelled games.


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