First published in the Sept. 23 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
San Marino players knew full well what San Gabriel High School’s varsity football squad was going to do when the two teams met last Thursday night in Titan Stadium. Stopping it, well, that was a different matter.
The Matadors did just enough to sneak out of town with a 20-17 victory to drop San Marino’s record to 2-2 and send the Titans into Rio Hondo League play on a sour note.
San Gabriel kept the ball mostly on the ground, eschewing the passing game except on rare occasions while chewing up yardage and the clock en route to improve its record to 4-0.
The visiting Matadors took the opening kickoff and marched downfield, with powerful fullback Elijah Muniz plowing over from the four-yard line to take a 6-0 lead. Muniz ran basically the same play to add the two-point conversion for an 8-0 advantage.
San Gabriel attempted an onside kick but the Matadors’ coverage team touched the ball before it traveled the required 10 yards and San Marino got the ball at its opponent’s 42-yard line.
Senior quarterback Niko Mavridis connected with sophomore Mikey Yessaian for 21 yards to the Matadors’ 16-yard line, but the drive sputtered and the hosts had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by freshman Toby Pedroza to trim the lead to 8-3.
San Gabriel scored on the ensuing possession when quarterback Jacob Muniz found paydirt from two yards away to make the score 14-3. San Marino sophomore defensive back Ryan Park batted away Muniz’s pass on the failed two-point conversion attempt.
Tailback Robert Lucero scored on a four-yard run following a San Marino punt, but defensive end Brendan Gill corralled Lucero on the two-point conversion and the Matadors took a 20-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.
But it seemed to be a different Titan team that emerged following the intermission.
San Marino embarked on a long drive, fortified by a 31-yard pass completion from Mavridis to Yessaian that put the ball on San Gabriel’s 34-yard line. Facing a fourth down predicament, Mavridis completed a 13-yard pass to sophomore Coleman Morning for a first down. Mavridis called hos own number two plays later to cap a 17-play drive, with Pedroza’s successful conversion trimming the deficit to 20-10 late in the third quarter.
The Titans’ offense found its groove, but crucial penalties brought successive drives to an end.
The two teams traded fumbles midway through the fourth quarter and San Marino capitalized on its takeaway. Setting up shop at San Gabriel’s 39-yard line, Mavridis threw to Yessaian to pick up a key first down. Three plays later, Mavridis tossed a five-yard touchdown pass to Morning. Pedroza’s conversion brought the Titans to within a field goal at 20-17 with just five minutes remaining in the contest.
The Titans tried an onside kick but were offsides on the play. The Matadors picked up the two first downs they needed to put the game on ice, taking a knee twice from victory formation to clinch the nonleague win.
Mavridis finished the night completing 17 of 27 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown.
Yessaian caught eight of his offerings for 120 yards and Morning snatched five for 35 yards and the touchdown. Senior Andrew Hornberger made three receptions for 16 yards and classmates Michael Prappas (two catches for 20 yards) and Jayden Hollomand (one catch for 14 yards) also contributed.
When Mavridis had to leave the game for a couple plays to receive treatment for a minor injury, junior Riley Short calmly connected with Yessaian for a key 34-yard hookup.
But the Titans were unable to muster a sustained ground attack to balance the passing game. San Marino rushed the ball 20 times for a total of just 50 yards, with Mavridis collecting a team-high 36 yards on the ground.
Prappas led the defensive effort, making 17 tackles and recovering a fumble. Nathan Yarahmadi registered 12 tackles and forced a fumble. Morning was credited with a dozen stops, receiving help from Hornberger (nine tackles), Nick Escamilla (eight), Jay Bell (seven tackles, three quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery), Vasu Mohanan (seven tackles), Brendan Long, Brendan Gill, Julian Solis and Park (six tackles apiece), Joseph Wong (three tackles), Jayan Anvekar (two tackles) while Yessaian, Hollomand and Aidan Hong each recorded a stop for San Marino.
Head coach Ray Torres acknowledged the individual effort of Prappas.
“Michael plays so hard,” said the first-year coach. “He is so competitive and leaves it all out on the field.”
Torres also singled out Long for a solid effort.
“Brendan had a really nice game for us,” the coach said. “He really helped us out defensively.”
Torres also touted the exploits of Mavridis, Hornberger and the Titans’ young offensive line.
“Once they got going, they really put together a nice game,” said Torres.
But it was the “once they got going” theme that eventually doomed San Marino.
“I didn’t feel like we were ready to play,” said Torres. “That first quarter really hurt us. By the time we got going, we were too far behind. The kids adjusted at halftime and, all in all, they played very hard. If there just were a few more minutes on the clock…” he concluded, not finishing the sentence.
Torres also wasn’t pleased that the game was moved to a Thursday night due to a dearth of referees in the San Gabriel Valley. The Titans were also missing several key players for a variety of reasons.
“But I am impressed that the guys played to the very end,” said Torres. “Regardless, I felt we should have won the game.”
Torres and his staff will have an extra week to search for solutions as the Titans have their traditional bye week leading into Rio Hondo League play. San Marino squares off with Pasadena Poly at South Pasadena High School on Friday, Oct. 1, to open the league docket. Poly joined the Rio Hondo League two years ago for the sport of football but the pandemic wiped out the league schedule last season.
“I am happy that we have the bye week,” Torres said. “This will give us an opportunity to take some time and bring everyone up to speed with the system. This will also allow us to recover physically and we will take it back to a week of summer-type practices. There will be a lot of teaching and film-watching. We also are going to take some time to focus on special teams.”
Torres and his staff have scouted Poly and see a team that is “tough, athletic and well-rounded,” in the coach’s estimation.
“They will be ready to play,” Torres said. “It’s time for us to hit the reset button and remind everyone of what we expect to do in the Rio Hondo League.”