“That was pretty cool,” said the kid who will be ushered into his 25th-year reunion and never pick up another tab at Tony’s Pizza.
It matters little that the 37-yard field goal he converted to provide the winning points of San Marino’s 22-20 victory over South Pasadena was the first of his lifetime. Or that he had asked coach Justin Mesa if he could return to the squad just two weeks ago. Or that the teammate who put the play in motion by snapping the ball, Ryan Singhal, had little experience at the craft. Or that the sport of football was just hours away from having its season canceled before receiving a reprieve from the Los Angeles County Department of Health in February.
No, none of that mattered at all, especially in the midst of a year so comparatively devoid of joyous moments.
It was no surprise, then, when team members, coaches, parents and fans lingered for over an hour to take photos with the aforementioned Crowley Cup and spend a few extra moments with those they have spent more than a year secluded from.
Considering its ending was so remarkable, it’s difficult to remember that there was actually a football game attached to the legend, and it was quite entertaining.
Junior Michael Prappas opened the scoring when he stepped in front of a pass thrown by Tiger quarterback Jackson Freking and sprinted into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown on an interception return. Wendling offered a harbinger of things to come when he converted the extra point to give the Titans a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Tigers answered when tailback Jack Riffle capped a long drive with a two-yard run and Terrence Sweetman booted the extra point to tie the game at 7-7.
After a San Marino possession stalled, Titan senior Billy Daves — who was chosen to be captain for the game — recovered a fumble that was caused by classmate Matthew Karapetyan to halt a Tiger drive. San Marino capitalized immediately when junior quarterback Niko Mavridis spotted Karapetyan in open territory for a 66-yard scoring pass with 3:30 remaining in the first half. But they won’t be writing folk songs about Wendling’s extra point attempt following the touchdown, as this effort went way right to keep the score at 13-7.
The Tigers used the two minutes that remained on the clock until halftime wisely as Freking found Grant Huntley open for a 28-yard scoring connection. Sweetman’s extra point provided the 14-13 South Pas advantage at the half.
San Marino appeared to take the lead when Mavridis connected with Ryan Singhal for an apparent 24-yard score, but the Titans were penalized of holding and unsportsmanlike conduct and had to punt.
Again, the Tigers responded, but junior Cole Giles made a big defensive play to stem the offensive surge.
Mavridis smartly tossed two consecutive passes to Ryan Singhal, the second of which went for a 67-yard touchdown pass. Ahead 19-14, San Marino went for a two-point conversion, which was unsuccessful.
The Tigers drove the ball downfield and appeared to take control of the game when Freking called his own number and broke containment to score on a 10-yard run. The Tigers attempted a two-point conversion of their own, but Nick Singhal met Riffle at the point of attack and obliterated the play to keep the score at 20-19 Tigers with a minute remaining in the contest.
Singhal’s defensive gem, however, would prove prophetic.
Starting at their own 22-yard line, Mavridis connected with Karapetyan for 18 yards and a first down. He then found Prappas for a 30-yard gain that spotted the ball on South Pasadena’s 35-yard line. With time expiring, Mavridis launched a pass into the end zone towards junior Andrew Hornberger. The Tigers were called for pass interference, which advanced the ball to the 20-yard line.
Because a half or game cannot end on a defensive penalty, the Titans received an untimed down that will now be remembered for all of time. Wendling jogged onto the field and approached the ball which was spotted on the left hash mark, which he would later say he did not prefer.
“I was freaking out,” Wendling said with a chuckle. “I had an understanding that if it came down to within 40 yards, it was going to have to be me. I was thinking it was going to be a Hail Mary to the end zone, which it was, and then the pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 20. I was warming up my leg when coach Mesa said, ‘Score team.’”
That was the cue to try the field goal.
South Pasadena called a timeout to let Wendling contemplate the task set before him. In retrospect, Wendling appreciated the extra couple minutes.
“A timeout can go either way, but I would say in this case it helped me out,” Wendling said. “It gave me more time to process and figure out what was going on.”
Nick Singhal’s snap was on the mark and holder Hornberger placed the ball right on the perfect spot, setting the stage for Wendling’s foot.
“I put everything into it,” he said. “The snap and the hold and the blocking…it all went perfect. I should not be getting all the credit. The game came down to everybody doing their part. And they did. It was incredible.”
Mavridis ended the night completing 17 of 27 passes for 401 yards and two touchdowns. Karapetyan latched onto five of the passes for 109 yards and a score with Ryan Singhal snagging six for 211 yards. Prappas caught five passes for 65 yards and Hornberger got into the action with a catch for 16 yards.
Mavridis kept the Tiger defense honest with 47 rushing yards on nine carries, with Nick Singhal gaining 49 yards on 19 attempts. Karapetyan picked up 42 yards on seven attempts and Ryan Singhal carried four times for 22 yards to round out a balanced offensive attack.
A swarming Titan defense confounded South Pasadena all night, led by Nick Singhal, Nick Derrick, Valentin Arambula, Nathan Fajardo, Ryan Qu, Liam Fakhourian, Paolo Domenghini, Alexander Parwar, Daves, Prappas and Hornberger.
The win gave San Marino an all-time record of 34-28-3 in the historic rivalry between the two schools, which for a period of 30 years were housed on the same campus and known as South Pasadena-San Marino High School. The split in 1952 was hardly amicable, to which one now-legendary participant can attest.
“And remember, 10 straight years,” Wendling added with a twinkle, making sure all were aware of San Marino’s current win streak over its neighboring rival.