First published in the Nov. 4 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
Lightning struck San Marino High School’s varsity football team last Friday night for the second time in a week, and in the future neither bolt will spark many positive memories.
Instead, when summoning up memories of the 2021 season, players, coaches, family members and close friends may recall of one of the most painful yet exhilarating two-game spans in decades as the Titans were nipped at the wire for the second consecutive week.
This time, it was visiting La Cañada, which mounted a furious rally in the game’s final two minutes to score a touchdown and give the Spartans a 46-43 victory.
This heartbreaking defeat came on the heels of the game a week prior, when South Pasadena pulled off a similar comeback, scoring a last-minute touchdown to defeat San Marino, 24-21, and set the Tigers’ homecoming crowd into a tizzy.
“It was rough,” said San Marino head coach Ray Torres, his words nearly identical to those he uttered a week earlier.
Similar and, unfortunately for the Titans, brutally true, as the Titans wrapped up their season with a 3-6 record, including a 1-4 mark in Rio Hondo League play. La Cañada ended up the season 6-4 overall and 2-3 in the league.
Both teams entered the contest devoid of playoff hopes but you never would have known it. La Cañada surged to a 19-0 lead on the strength of a diversified offense and solid play from sophomore quarterback Macky Plocher.
The Titans finally got on the board courtesy of a 10-yard pass from senior quarterback Niko Mavridis to sophomore wide receiver Coleman Morning. Mavridis connected with senior Michael Prappas for a 2-point conversion which trimmed La Cañada’s lead to 19-8 at the half.
The Titans signaled their resolve on the opening drive of the second half, which sophomore running back Ryder Yoshitake capped with a 2-yard run. Mavdridis called his own number for the successful 2-point conversion which shrunk the deficit to 19-16.
But the Spartans picked up another touchdown and 2-pointer and led 27-16.
However, the Titans were growing in confidence and, two plays later, Mavridis connected with senior Andrew Hornberger for a 47-yard scoring pass. The duo hooked up again on the 2-point conversion, making it a 27-24 advantage in favor of the visitors.
The Spartans scored again to go ahead 33-24, but San Marino quickly formulated a response. Senior Jayden Hollomand sparked the drive with a 34-yard kickoff return into Spartan territory. Three plays later, Mavridis found Morning for a 26-yard touchdown connection and the Titans were within 33-30 entering the fourth quarter.
La Cañada junior Corey Cheung embarked on a 40-yard run to put the Spartans ahead 39-30, but again San Marino found an answer. Mavridis and Hornberger connected again, this time from 8 yards out and San Marino was within 39-36.
The Titans forced a fumble on the second play of the ensuing drive and senior Jay Bell collected the ball at La Cañada’s 41-yard line. Six plays later, the Titans reprised the famous (or infamous, depending on whom you were pulling for in the iconic 2005 USC–Notre Dame game) “Bush Push,” as Prappas basically lifted Mavridis off his feet and into the end zone to provide San Marino with its first lead of the night. Freshman Toby Pedroza converted on the extra point for a 43-39 advantage.
The temporary surge in momentum appeared that it might become permanent when La Cañada fumbled the ensuing kick, a miscue that was recovered by senior Owen Grannis. But the Titans had to punt, giving the ball back to La Cañada at its own 11-yard line with 2:06 left in the fourth quarter. The Titans appeared poised to complete the comeback as the Spartans faced fourth down and 25 following an intentional grounding call.
But Plocher connected with senior Jack Stroben, a senior playing his first season of football, for a drive-preserving 31-yard completion. Cheung capped a stellar night with an 18-yard run that took the ball to San Marino’s 1-yard line. He plunged into the end zone on the next play and kicker Shaina Corfeine converted the extra point for the 46-43 score with just 27 seconds remaining on the clock.
But the Titans had gone too far to turn back now. On the final, play of the game, Mavridis connected with Yoshitake on a short screen pass, which set off a series of laterals. Reminiscent of another famous (or infamous, depending on whom you were cheering for in the fabled 1982 Stanford–Cal game), the Titans at one point seemed destined for a similar miracle as Hollomand raced down the right sideline with open space ahead. But there was no marching band on the field to help rescue the Titans as Hollomand’s forward progress was eventually stopped at the Spartans’ 20-yard line, bringing the play, game and season to an end.
Mavridis ended the night completing 24 of 31 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns. The senior co-captain also led San Marino in rushing, picking up an additional 111 yards on 13 carries. Mavridis added two more rushing touchdowns and three 2-point conversions on the ground.
Morning led San Marino’s receivers with seven catches for 89 yards and a score. Hollomand made six catches catches for 56 yards. Prappas added four catches for 16 yards and Yoshitake made three grabs for 73 yards. Hornberger caught three passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns and sophomore Jayan Anvekar caught a pass for 13 yards.
Morning led San Marino’s defense with 13 tackles, getting help from Bell and Prappas (12 apiece), sophomore Felix Steinberger (11), senior Brendan Long (eight), junior Joseph Wong (seven), Hollomand (six) and Hornberger and Mavridis, who pitched in with five tackles apiece.
Torres was philosophical, even for a man who had experienced heartbreak two weeks in a row.
“It’s hard to be too upset about anything, but for some reason we feel a need to go down by 20 points before we do our assignments correctly and make a comeback,” said the first-year coach. “That was the only thing I was frustrated by. Other than that, the entire second half was amazing. As a coach, obviously we don’t want to lose games and especially two weeks in a row. It was an awesome game for the fans and for the second half we played very well. We had no energy and no excitement in the first half. That was tough to see, but the second half was great. If we had just taken care of business in the first half the way we did in the second half. It was very exciting to be on the field for that second half.”
Torres praised Hornberger who he said played “amazing, again.” Long was acknowledged for “a great game, defensively.” Others receiving plaudits were Morning, Mavridis, Prappas, Steinberger, Yoshitake and Hollomand.
Torres also commended the offensive line of Brendan Gill, Timothy Irie, Julian Navarette, Mitch Mooney and Grannis.
“They did a nice job Friday night,” the coach said.
In spite of the two painful losses to end the season, Torres considers the year a success.
“Obviously, there were a lot of tough experiences but I love that this team gets along and plays together,” he said. “The kids responded really well to what we were teaching. I wanted the record to be better, but we were playing with so many young players. Despite all the adversity we went through, the kids practiced hard and were always ready to play. What was awesome is how they got along so well no matter what grade they were in. The younger players were allowed to be themselves and they grew into a team during the year. I think it made a difference that the entire team shares a locker room and we all practice together.”
Torres is looking forward to having a full season of spring practices and workouts, something that was unavailable last season due to the late hiring of Torres.
“There are some good things coming up and I am looking forward to it,” he said.
He won’t have to look very far. The Titans’ strength training program begins Nov. 15.