Centaurs football season ends on a low note
November 18, 2021
The Centaurs quest for a CIF Championship ended at home last Friday, November 6, a frustrating 23-21 loss to the top-seeded Camarillo High Scorpions in the Division 6 Quarterfinal showdown. Culver City High had taken a 22-20 lead on a dramatic 88-yard drive with only 3:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. Camarillo promptly delivered the game-winning field goal 91 seconds later. Two plays later, the Centaurs' last-minute comeback attempt vanquished into the night with an interception at midfield.
"It was a tough game because we lost," said Culver City head coach Jahmal Wright. "To be up 14-3 and winning a majority of the game, to take the lead back and lose the game at the end is kind of a heart-breaking loss. Even though they (Camarillo) scored I felt pretty confident that we could go down the field and win the game."
Camarillo took the initial lead with a 36-yard field goal by kicker Colton Schlimgen at 8:31 in the first quarter. Two minutes later Culver City responded immediately with 65-yard drive ending with a 35-yard touchdown pass to grab a 7-3 lead. Wide receiver Ethan Harris used his speed to get separation down the left sideline, caught quarterback Alonzo Esparza's well-thrown deep toss before breaking a tackle to get into the endzone.
Wright had this to say about the play. "It was an out-and-up play. They were in man-to-man coverage. We had just got a first down and had the option of throwing the ball across the middle or working the sideline. Alonzo decided to work the sideline since they were in man-to-man coverage. And Ethan did what he did all season, he did a great job there."
The Centaurs offense upped the pressure at 7:44 in the second quarter when Esparza threw a short pass to running back Jamiere Munson, who dashed into for an 11-yard touchdown untouched into the left corner of the endzone. "They disregarded our running backs the whole night and one of our assistant coaches noticed that we could sneak the running back out in the flat and get into the end zone," said Wright.
The Scorpions offense was kept out of the endzone in the first half due to Culver City's defense making timely plays. Munson, playing free safety, caused a fumble as Camarillo was ready to take the lead with a short run up the middle near the goal line. Linebacker Marco Ramirez recovered the ball in the endzone near the end of the first quarter.
Yet, Schlimgen was able to kick a seemingly innocuous 35-yard field goal for Camarillo to cut the lead to 14-6 just before the end of the first half. Ultimately, it was the difference in the final score of the game. The momentum completely swung in the third quarter. Culver City received the second half kick-off but the offense went three-and-out. The Scorpions followed with a 72-yard scoring drive ending with quarterback Brody Meyer's two-yard keeper. Max Carter caught a two-point conversion pass, and the score was suddenly tied, 14-14, with more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"I thought Camarillo's defense did a good job in the second half. We were three and out a bunch in the second half, which really hurt us. It's just a lot of things didn't go our way," said Wright. Not only was the Centaur offense struggling on third down conversions, it was also dealing with a serious rash of penalty flags that negated numerous first downs and big plays for yardage.
Culver City appeared to be snake bit when the Scorpions scored on a 76-yard pass that appeared to be an incomplete pass that was picked off the turf at Camarillo's 22-yard line. Wide receiver Brandon Contreras was able to maneuver the right sideline into the end zone at 5:11 of the third quarter. The two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, but Camarillo still had a 20-14 lead.
The defenses started taking command going into the fourth quarter. After six consecutive combined punts by both teams, Camarillo looked to lock up the game when Esparza threw his first interception of the game at the Centaur 42-yard line. But Culver City's defense made an excellent four-down stand to give the ball back to the offense at their 34-yard line with 5:41 to go in the game.
The next two minutes was textbook offense with a maddening crowd screaming with each subsequent play. A long completion to wide receiver Mateo Torres got favorable yardage, a 29-yard scramble by Esparza on third down, a 22-yard pass to Harris, followed by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Harris tied the game for the Centaurs. Kicker Diego Caldera kicked the clutch extra-point attempt for a 21-20 lead with a little over three minutes remaining in the game.
"Alonzo did a good job of getting the ball to Ethan Harris, who had crucial catches on that drive. We were able to go about four or five plays and get down the field pretty fast. We had an outbreaking route on the weak side. Both options were open but he made the right choice by working the weak side for the touchdown," said Wright.
But the Scorpions worked the left sideline to get within field goal distance, though the Centaurs made another fine defensive stand to keep the lead to less than a field goal and plenty of time to move into a game-winning field position. Schlimgen kicked the eventual game-winning 27-yard field goal with 1:54 remaining. His powerful kicking, which included several booming punts, was the difference in the scoring as he led both teams with nine points.
"They went to a prevent defense and there was still over a minute and a half left in the game," said Wright. "We had just got a first down. The plan was to run the receivers deep and throw the ball to the running back." But alas, it was not to be as Culver City's last pass was intercepted with less than two minutes in the game. With not enough timeouts for the defense to keep the clock from running out, time expired just as Camarillo's fourth down pass flew out of bounds.
"I'm proud of how the guys fought and played.," said Wright. "I thought it was a well-played football game. That's how the playoffs are. They were the number one seed for a reason. We just fell two points short."
Offensively, Esparza completed 27 of 44 passes for 370 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Harris led in receiving with eight catches for 188 yards and one touchdown. Ryan Franklin had five catches for 43 yards, and Mateo Torres also caught five for 46 yards. Elijah Adams caught three for 69 yards and a touchdown, Munson had three catches for 16 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, William Schultz led the team with 12 tackles, one pass deflection and on tackle for loss. Bryce Williams registered 11 tackles including eight solos and two tackles for loss. Aaron Salas and D.J. Powell had nine tackles each, Munson had eight total tackles, while Malik Lewis had seven tackles, including two tackles for loss. Jasani Pitts, Mason Merriwether, and Connor Panapa each had six tackles.
"It was a transition year," said Wright. "We played in a lot of seniors the year before, so I thought it was a step in the right direction. We did a great job weathering the storms, getting better week by week. The seniors stood out. Definitely. And the future is bright. I'm excited."