Centaurs have to settle for second place after loss to Sea Kings

Culver City High's quest to repeat as Bay League Football Champions fell by the wayside at Palos Verdes High last Friday afternoon. The Centaurs dug themselves several holes they couldn't get out of as the Sea Kings enjoyed a satisfying 36-17 victory to recapture the league title they held for the previous nine seasons ending in 2019.

Culver City will wrap up the regular season schedule this Friday night, 7:00 p.m. October 29, against Santa Monica High, at Santa Monica College. The Centaurs are currently in second place in the Bay League with a 3-1 record (5-3 overall) while the Vikings are in last place with an 0-2 record (1-6 overall). Peninsula High is in third place at 2-2, followed by fourth place Mira Costa (1-2) and Redondo Union in fifth with a 1-3 record.

The Centaurs have not played Santa Monica since beating them 47-7 in 2019, when Culver City was on its way to winning the Ocean League Championship. Both teams transferred to the Bay League for the 2020 season but the game was cancelled by Santa Monica due to COVID protocol measures. The Vikings have also cancelled two contests this season, against Palos Verdes and Mira Costa. Their last win over the Culver City occurred in 2014.

Similar to the previous week's comeback victory over Peninsula, the Centaurs fell behind by a couple of touchdowns in the opening minutes of the game at Palos Verdes. Only this time, the deficit was too great to overcome against a perennial power program. The Sea Kings drove 72 yards on the opening drive to take a 7-0 lead at 7:46, converting a fourth down and third down-and-long to sustain the scoring drive.

The Centaurs went three-and-out on their first drive of the game, forcing them to punt from their own 8-yard line. Unfortunately for Culver City, the kick was blocked and recovered in the endzone by Palos Verdes for a touchdown. They went for and added two points on the conversion after a Centaur penalty put the ball at the goal line during the extra-point kick attempt. Culver City trailed 15-0 at 6:45 in the first quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Centaurs were penalized and started at their 8-yard line. Yet, on the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Alonzo Esparza threw laterally to running back D.J. Powell, who proceeded to turn the right edge and torch the entire Sea King defense for an apparent 92-yard touchdown. But like what happened in the previous week's game, the referee's flags were flying at an alarming rate and the play was nullified.

Despite the setback, Esparza threw to wide receivers Mateo Torres, Elijah Adams, and Ryan Franklin and utilized running back Jamiere Munson to move the ball to the Palos Verdes 15-yard line. But after a couple of passes failed to complete, senior kicker Diego Caldera nailed a 32-yard field goal to slightly cut the lead to 15-3 with 2:32 remaining in the first quarter.

Linebacker Robert James forced and recovered a fumble during Palos Verdes' next drive giving Culver City excellent field position at their 42-yard line and quickly gaining the momentum. Esparza drove the Centaurs down to the Sea Kings 5-yard line, but on first down he threw a short pass that was intercepted by defensive tackle Johan Van Wier. After three-and-out by P.V., D.J. Powell returned the punt to the Sea Kings 22-yard line.

Once again, the Centaurs failed to capitalize on ideal field position. Four plays later a fourth down completion was yards short of a first down. And once again the Centaur defense gave the ball back to the offense four plays later when strong safety William Schultz intercepted Palos Verdes quarterback Turner Helton and returned it to the Sea Kings 15-yard line. Four plays later futility set in for Culver City with a missed 38-yard field goal.

The downfall continued with the Centaurs next possession as Palos Verdes intercepted their second pass giving them the ball near midfield with 39 seconds remaining before halftime. The Sea Kings were ready to kick a field goal with eight seconds to go but the Centaurs were nailed with another penalty, prompting Palos Verdes to go for a touchdown. As fate would have it, Helton completed a pass to tight end Sky Shaw for a 12-yard touchdown and a 22-3 halftime lead.

The Centaurs started the third quarter with a 68-yard scoring drive to reduce the lead to 22-10 at 7:31. Running backs Munson and Jerin Stanton got the bulk of the yardage setting up an 11-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Adams. Caldera kicked the extra-point. That was the closest Culver City would get to Palos Verdes for the rest of the game.

Less than three minutes later, Sea King running back Ken Knapp scored on a 59-yard run along the right sideline that sealed the Centaurs' fate. It was punctuated when Palos Verdes made their third interception on the first play of Culver City's next possession. Helton hit Justin Mabry for a touchdown on 4th-and-one at the one-yard line, good for a 36-10 lead 51 seconds before the end of the third quarter. They completed the two-point conversion after the Centaurs were called for a penalty during an extra-point attempt kick.

Culver City did enjoy one more highlight in the fourth quarter when Schultz again intercepted his second pass, this time returning it a scintillating 95 yards down the left sideline. That was the final score of the game as sophomore kicker Henry Brownlow converted the extra-point, his first points ever as a Centaur. The Sea Kings were crowned Bay League Champions five minutes and 40 seconds later.

Statistically, Alonzo Esparza completed 18 of 29 passes for 163 yards, one passing touchdown and four interceptions. Jamiere Munson led the Centaurs in rushing with 52 yards on 10 carries. Jerin Stanton rushed for 29 yards on seven carries while D.J. Powell carried three times for 17 yards. The team rushed for a total of 93 yards on 21 carries for a 4.4 yard average per rush.

Five receivers caught a total of 18 passes for 163 yards. Mateo Torres led with six catches for 62 yards. Elijah Adams received five passes for 40 yards and one touchdown. Ryan Franklin caught four passes for 42 yards, Darius Poles had two catches for nine yards, and Leo Matsuoka caught one pass for 10 yards.

Defensively, William Schultz lead the team with 11 tackles and six solo tackles. Robert James had 10 tackles and also six solo tackles. Jamiere Munson had nine tackles, including five solos, while C.J. Robinson and Mason Merriwether had eight tackles each. Three players had seven tackles each: Bryce Williams, Nick Badour, and Marco Ramirez. Williams also had two tackles for loss while Badour, Merriwether, and Ramirez had one each.

Culver City will have to wait a few days following the Santa Monica game on Friday to find out when and where they will be playing for the CIF Football Playoffs. The Centaurs can theoretically be tied with Peninsula for second place in the Bay League after this Friday, which is an unlikely scenario given that Palos Verdes will play at Peninsula. That and the fact that Culver City's opponent, Santa Monica, has not fielded a competitive team in quite some time and Culver City beat Peninsula in the head to head match up a few weeks ago.


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