First published in the Oct. 7 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
Well, it took Pasadena’s Polytechnic School exactly one game to wear out its welcome into the Rio Hondo League.
After officially joining the league two years ago as a football-only admit, the Panthers earned a victory in their debut, defeating San Marino 27-19 on Friday night in front of an enthusiastic crowd at South Pasadena High School, Poly’s home field.
The Titans’ record fell to 2-3 overall (0-1 in league). Winless Temple City will make the short trip this Friday evening to serve as San Marino’s Homecoming opponent.
Poly opened the scoring when senior Alex Xie worked his way into the San Marino secondary and grabbed a fourth-down pass from quarterback and classmate Colin Mathews. Sam Howell, also a senior, was true with the extra point to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
San Marino’s Owen Grannis returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield and, just two minutes later, senior quarterback Niko Mavridis lofted a 15-yard pass to Andrew Hornberger to cut the advantage to 7-6. (The hosts blocked the extra point.)
Foiled by the Titans’ aggressive defense, the Panthers had to punt shortly before halftime and San Marino cashed in. Starting at their own 34-yard line, a completion from Mavridis to Michael Prappas covered and moved the ball across midfield. Mavridis then hooked up with Hornberger for 11 yards before the combination converted on a fade route that was an almost exact duplicate of their first scoring pass. Freshman kicker Toby Pedroza booted the extra point to give the Titans a 13-7 lead at the intermission.
The Poly defense made the first impact play of the second half, forcing a Titan fumble and taking over at midfield. Mathews connected with senior Jason Mayo for a 10-yard catch-and carry to tie the game, 13-13.
San Marino threw a charge into the proceedings on the ensuing possession when Mavridis connected with Prappas along the sideline for what appeared to be a 58-yard touchdown pass. However, it was nullified due to an illegal procedure penalty with 4:23 left in the third quarter. The Titans were forced to punt.
Mayo scored on a nine-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to give the Panthers a lead and then tumbled into the end zone for the two-point to increase the advantage to 21-13.
Proving that he could catch the ball as well as throw it, Matthews intercepted a pass and returned it 33 yards to San Marino’s 24-yard line. The gutsy Titan defense made the Panthers work for it, but seven plays later Mayo scored on a 12-yard run to make the score 27-13. San Marino’s Brendan Long shut the door on a two-point conversion attempt with nine minutes left on the clock.
San Marino crisply moved the ball downfield on its next possession, with Mavridis connecting with senior Jayden Hollomand for a 16-yard completion. Following a 10-yard Mavridis scramble, the Titans picked up 15 yards when sophomore Nick Escamilla drew a pass interference penalty. Three plays later, sophomore Ryder Yoshitake crossed the goal line on a nine-yard touchdown run but the attempted two-pointer was foiled.
The Panthers moved into scoring position again but a series of penalties took them out of the red zone.
San Marino had one more bite at the apple but turned the ball over on downs, effectively bringing an end to the contest.
Though under almost constant duress, Mavridis was able to complete 14 of his 28 passes for 141 yards and the two scores. Hornberger, Prappas and Hollomand caught four passes apiece for 54, 41 and 35 yards, respectively. Yoshitake, Coleman Morning and Mikey Yessaian also had receptions for the Titans.
But San Marino found the going tough on the ground, with Mavridis’ six carries for 49 yards topping the chart. Yoshitake picked up 17 yards on his four carries and Trevor Anton added 12 yards in his three trips.
San Marino’s defense had a strong showing though the unit was beat up by Poly’s ball-control offense, which operated from a double wing formation and featured multiple running backs. Long recorded 19 tackles with Bell adding 11 stops. Sophomore Nathan Yarahmadi added eight tackles, followed by Prappas and Morning (seven apiece), Hornberger (five), Hollomand, Escamilla and Julian Solis (four apiece) and Brendan Gill, who made two stops and added a timely quarterback sack. Junior Vasu Mohanan also had two tackles and a nifty kickoff return.
“It was rough,” said SMHS head coach Ray Torres, with a tinge of disappointment in his typically animated voice. “Our kids fought hard and they are mentally strong, but at one time we had six players on the sideline with injuries. That certainly makes matters more challenging. Everyone was able to come back in the game, but that makes it tough for everyone.”
Torres cited his offensive line for a solid performance as a unit, specifically noting the efforts of Tim Irie, Mitch Mooney, Julian Navarette, Owen Grannis and Brendan Gill. He also singled out Bell, who was all over the place on defense, and Yoshitake and Anton, who are trying their best to replace All-Rio Hondo League two-way performer Ryan Singhal, who is lost for the year with a knee injury. Long, Torres said, “played very hard. He has a lot of passion, which I like.”
Torres said it was “a winnable game that we let slip away.”
“We can’t seem to put together the whole game,” he added. “We have a good quarter or a good half, but we need to get to a point where we are able to play an entire game. We are either injured or tired, but we have a big drop-off after our starters. It’s not their fault. We as coaches have to do a better job of putting them in situations that eliminate the thinking part for the inexperienced players. We fought hard and had good flashes, but those injuries didn’t help.”
The Titans will host Temple City tomorrow night Homecoming tilt, which kicks off in Titan Stadium at 7 p.m. After skipping the entire 2020 campaign — which due to the pandemic was delayed until this past March and April — the Rams are 0-6 so far, including last Friday’s 41-12 loss to South Pasadena. If one cares to play the maddening game of “comparative scores,” the Rams lost to San Gabriel 35-14 whereas San Marino played the Matadors relatively even, dropping a 20-17 decision.
“They play hard and they are very consistent,” said Torres. “They run the spread offense like us and I hope that benefits our defense because we see that all day in practice. They play hard and do not quit. I saw a lot of good things and the score of the South Pasadena game was a lot closer than the final score says it was.”
Rams’ quarterback Jake Jones is just a sophomore and is passing at a 147-yards-per-game clip while also leading the team in rushing. Wide receiver Judah Douglas is only a freshman but is already Jones’ favorite target. Junior Nick Sunderman is also a multi-talented offensive player who hauls in an average of three passes a game.
“We, as coaches, have to be sure our backups are mentally in a place where they know what they are doing,” said Torres of the adjustments the Titans must make to be successful this week. “We have to do a better job of coaching them in situations. I know it is tough going both ways and also having to play on special teams. We are also going to scale back some things offensively and make it less complicated.”
Homecoming adds additional incentive for San Marino, which plays three of their final four regular season games in the friendly confines of Titan Stadium.
“The kids are excited, the coaches are excited and I hope all of our parents and fans are excited, too,” Torres concluded. “Now it’s up to the coaches to do our part.”