For Culver City football defense wins playoff game

Good defense travels well. Culver City High School football team made that a focal point last Friday night after they bussed 140 miles to the desert city of Indio and eliminated Shadow Hills High, 21-9, in the opening round of the CIF Division 6 Playoffs. The Centaurs will now host the top-seeded Camarillo High Scorpions in the quarterfinals this Friday, November 12, 7:00 p.m. at Jerry Chabola Stadium.

"I was proud. The team was focused and executed the game plan. We played very good defense," said Centaur's head coach Jahmal Wright, whose teams has made the CIF quarterfinals in four of the last five post-seasons. "Shadow Hills wanted to run the ball into the teeth of our defense, and that's kind of the strength of our defense. So, we were able to really capitalize off that.

"Whenever you can get a playoff victory on the road, it's never easy. We were playing a team that was 8-2 and the sceptics had us picked to lose the game. We were able to come out on top with the victory. It was a close game all the way through. 7-6 at halftime and they had more than a chance to win the game. They're some tough, hardnosed kids with a lot of fight, and a well-coached team."

Culver City's defense completely contained the Knights' running attack, holding them to 16 yards on 26 carries, averaging out to less than two feet per rushing attempt. They held the Shadow Hills passing game to 106 total yards on 11 of 32 completions, adding up to 122 total offensive yards. The Centaur defense also held Santa Monica High to 119 total offensive yards in the previous weeks' 27-0 Bay League shutout victory.

"I thought our defensive linemen did a great job," said Wright. It was good having our two starting middle linebackers back, Aaron Salas and Jasani Pitts. They had missed the last two games due to injury. Having those guys back with Bryce Williams and Mason Merriwether, they played an excellent game along with Connor Panapa. Our front seven made it hard for Shadow Hills to execute."

However, the Centaurs did not start securing the game until senior running back Jamiere Munson's 57-yard explosive touchdown run gutted the middle of the Knights' defense with 6:17 remaining in the fourth quarter. Now Culver City turns their attention to Camarillo High, who finished second in the Camino League.

The Centaurs took the early lead against Shadow Hills and never lost it. Freshman quarterback Alonzo Esparza threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Ryan Franklin to go ahead 7-0 with 1:15 remaining in the first quarter. Kicker Diego Caldera converted the first of his three successful extra-point attempts. He is second in team scoring for the season with 36 points, including 24 extra-point kicks and four field goals.

Shadow Hills responded on the next drive, ending with a 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Greg Hollis to wide receiver Christian Padilla one minute into the second quarter. But they missed the extra-point attempt to trail, 7-6. That score remained the same through halftime as both defenses settled in.

"We had a message to the team at halftime," said Wright, laying out the strategy. "We wanted to get three-and-out, get the ball back and score. The defense got the three-and-out. We got a good punt return from D.J. Powell. It put us around the 50-yard line. We were able to complete a 16-yard pass to Darius Poles on first down.

"On second down we were able to go up top and throw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Harris across the middle. Again, they were really giving us the middle of the field. Our freshman quarterback did a great job of taking a deep breath and throwing an accurate pass for the touchdown." The perfect strike to Harris, who caught the ball on the goal line to give the Centaurs a 14-6 third-quarter lead at 9:55.

Again, the Knights responded immediately after the Centaurs scored. They had first-and-10 at the Culver City 15-yard line but the Centaur defense wouldn't break. Shadow Hills inched closer, 14-9, as Daniel Medina kicked a 30-yard field goal at 7:26. The five-point deficit remained for over 13 minutes until Munson's devastating touchdown run in the middle of the fourth quarter pushed the Knights to the edge.

The Centaurs defense took over from that point and closed out the Knights' season. It was Munson's team-high 12th touchdown of the season as the Centaurs improved their season record to 7-3. He leads the team with 840 yards on 112 carries, and in scoring with 74 points, 10 rushing touchdowns, one touchdown reception, one interception return for a touchdown, and one 2-point conversion.

"The defense is designed for the middle linebackers to make a lot of plays, but everybody has to play their part. The real story is the defensive linemen, the big guys who don't get a lot of credit. But they really do a lot of the dirty work," said Wright.

"We have a talented secondary that covers very well, led by the three seniors back there (Munson, Prince Okorie, C.J. Robinson) and Deshunn Powell, our junior shutdown corner. They do a great job of staying attached to their intended target and making a lot of plays on the football. We had a lot of pass breakups and balls batted down at the line of scrimmage. I was very proud of how we played."

Offensively, Esparza was efficient while securing the ball, completing 18 of 25 passes for 197 yards, two touchdown throws and no interceptions. His 121.6 quarterback rating was his highest of the season and his fourth game over the 100-rating mark. He has completed 64.3% of his passes for 2,622 total yards and 21 touchdowns this season.

Munson led all runners with 97 yards on 12 carries and one touchdown. Powell, Jerin Stanton and Esparza combined for 11 carries and 18 yards rushing. Darius Poles led the receivers with six catches for 50 yards. Franklin had five receptions for 58 yards and one touchdown, while deep-threat Ethan Harris caught four passes for 71 yards and one touchdown. Elijah Adams had two catches for 17 yards.

Defensively, Aaron Salas led with 14 tackles including one tackle for loss. Jasani Pitts had nine total tackles, while Mason Merriwether, Bryce Williams and Connor Panapa registered eight each. Merriwether also had three tackles for loss. Robert James had seven tackles; Prince Okorie, DJ Powell, and Malik Lewis had six tackles each while William Schultz totaled five. Okorie and Merriwether each had a quarterback sack and the defense combined to deflect five passes.

The Camarillo Scorpions advanced to the quarterfinals by holding off Millikan High of Long Beach, 17-14 in Round 1. A 2-yard touchdown run and a 24-yard field goal gave Camarillo a 10-0 lead through three quarters before the Millikan Rams cut the lead to three points with two fourth quarter touchdowns. Millikan drove to the Camarillo 14-yard line in the final minute, but the Scorpions recovered a fumble three plays later to preserve the win at home.

Camarillo is led by junior quarterback Brody Meyer. He's thrown for 2,036 yards with 19 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions this season. He showed good form against Milliken, completing 12 of 18 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown. Running back Nathaniel Madrigal balanced the attack with 28 carries for 108 yards and one touchdown. He and running back Jack Bowers gained 557 and 442 total yards this season, respectively.

The Scorpions relied primarily on four receivers this season. Brandon Contreras led with 43 receptions for 547 yards, and five touchdowns, while Jack Maulhardt caught 41 passes for 722 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Max Carter caught 33 for 333 yards, and three touchdowns, and Reese Winchester had 22 receptions for 191 yards.

Wright had this to say about Camarillo. "They're the number one seed in our division. They're 7-4 and a very physical, well-coached football team. They pose a very formidable challenge for us. It's going to take our best game of the season for us to pull it out."


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