All Ball Sports: Mira Costa High football passes on, and on. Rough year for coaches, high and low

Mira Costa junior Dalia Frias added the Bay League Finals Cross Country Championship title to her list of accomplishments, at Redondo Union last Friday. Her winning time in the three mile race was 16:40:30. Photo by Ray Vidal

Costa football sails on, Redondo stalls, rough year for coaches

Mira Costa’s Seamus O’Meara finished second at the Bay League Finals last friday, in a time of 14:47:70. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor

As the high school football season comes to a close, the Mira Costa and Redondo teams are like two ships passing in the night: The Mustangs are sailing off into the starry sea of playoff possibilities while the Sea Hawks are caught in a bad storm and headed straight for the rocky shore.

Early in the week, longtime Redondo Coach Matt Ballard announced his resignation a couple of days after one of the worst seasons in school history (final record: 2-8, 1-4 in the Bay League.) The Sea Hawks season came to a merciful end when they absorbed yet another beatdown in the annual rivalry game with Costa.

Two days later, on Thursday night, longtime Mira Costa Coach Don Morrow led his team to the biggest upset in the first round of the Division 7 state playoffs. The Mustangs destroyed second-seeded Garden Grove Pacifica by a hard-to-believe score of 35-14.

The exhilarating, on-the-road win pushed Costa’s season record to 6-5 and capped a four-game winning streak that salvaged their season. Just a month ago they sported a 2-5 record and looked to have no shot at making the playoffs.

They arrived at last week’s annual rivalry game against Redondo with a 4-5 record knowing that if they won and reached .500 on the season, they would have a good chance of making the playoffs. No guarantees, but they had to have a .500 record to at least merit consideration.  

They did deserve serious consideration, even before they destroyed Redondo 55-34: four of their five losses were by a combined 13 points. They had outscored their opponents by more than 40 points during the season, but a couple of one-point losses, and two other close losses had skewed their record and seemingly destroyed their season.

Not so fast. That’s all in the distant past now and anything is possible for an on-rushing Costa team.

And onrushing is the right word. A team that started the season relying heavily on the passing wizardry of senior quarterback Casey Pavlick – a worthy successor to Slingin’ Sam Whitney, the Bay League Player of the Year two autumns ago – achieved much better offensive balance over the second half of the season with the emergence of junior running back Matt Kraskoukas. The human bulldozer who can’t be stopped on short yardage situations is even starting to flash some breakaway speed and elusive moves to get him out in the open field.  

That new-found speed-game was on full display right away in the win over Pacifica. On the Mustang’s first possession, Kraskoukas snagged a short pass from Pavlick, pivoted upfield, and sprinted 40 yards untouched, all the way to the end zone and a stunning 7-0 lead. 

Costa’s defense, led by star linebacker Brett McCalla, suffocated the Pacifica attack and quickly got the ball back. With the Pacifica defense distracted while paying a lot of attention to keeping Kraskoukas in check, Pavlick unleashed a string of short and medium passes to wide receiver Cole Crotty and quickly marched the Mustangs down the field.  

Senior running back Dean Repetti capped off the drive with a 4-yard TD run and suddenly the Mustangs were riding high with a 14-0 lead mid-way through the first quarter in front of a stunned Pacifica crowd that was expecting an easy first-round game.         

Pacifica, which came into the game as a heavy favorite with an 8-2 record, responded with a 15-yard TD pass that cut the lead in half with 4:25 still to go in the first quarter.

No problem. Pavlick orchestrated a 72-yard drive capped off by a Kraskoukas 27-yard TD run on the first play of the second quarter to build the Mustang’s lead back to 21-7.

On its next series, Pacifica marched all the way to the Costa 6-yard line. But McCalla and the rest of the Mustang defense rose up and stopped them cold on a fourth-and-short play that gave Costa the ball back.

From there, Pavlick spotted Crotty wide open down the field, heaved a long-range guided missile, and the result was a 53-yard TD pass that pumped the lead up to 28-7, deflating Pacifica in the process and setting the stage for a second half in which Costa continued its domination.

While the final score of 35-14 was impressive, the individual stats were just as impressive. In particular, Kraskoukas finished with 205 yards and three touchdowns on only 16 carries – an average of more than 12 yards per carry.

While Mustang fans were looking forward to the quarterfinal playoff game that they will host Friday night at Waller Stadium against 8-3 Alta Loma, Redondo fans had to process the shock of seeing Coach Ballard – who made the playoffs each of his first eight years, and in 2015 took the Sea Hawks all the way to the semifinals in the CIF-SS Western Division – tender his resignation on Facebook after 10 years leading the program.        

“After 10 years as the head football coach at Redondo Union, I have decided to resign my position,” Ballard said in the post. “Simply put, it is time for me to take a step back and evaluate what is next. I will forever be grateful to the many individuals who have made coaching at Redondo a special experience. Most of all, it was an honor to coach all of the young men over the past 10 years in a sport that I love.

“There are no words to express how thankful I am to have been a part of their lives. Hopefully, I have had as positive an impact on them as they have had on me over the past years. Thank you for all the support and love that I have received over the years. It has been an honor to be a part of the Sea Hawk Family.”

A job well done to Coach Ballard. Too bad it ended on such a down note. 

The Coaching Carousel goes Round and Round: While Ballard left voluntarily, former USC coach Clay Helton was fired two months ago in a stunning early season termination that indicated just how fed-up Trojan fans were with his up-and-down – mostly down – record against the other elite Pac-12 teams. The pressure to oust him grew so intense that Athletic Director Mike Bohn couldn’t even wait for the end of the regular season – traditionally, the start of firing season — to pull the trigger. 

USC handed him a $12 million severance package on his way out the door, and most locals figured he would take the cash and chill on the Hill – his son Turner Helton is the star quarterback at Palos Verdes High School — for a year or two before trying to get back into big-time college coaching.

Nope.

Helton stunned the college football world for the second time in two months this week when he agreed to become the head coach at Georgia Southern, a member of the Sun Belt conference.   

It’s quite a step down for the former Trojans head coach.        

Instead of gearing up for arch-rivals like UCLA and Stanford, he will be game-planning for the likes of Appalachian State and Georgia State.

But those who know Helton well insist the surprising move makes a certain amount of sense.  By all accounts Helton is a nice man, a true gentleman who preaches – and lives by – the old-school values of honesty, loyalty, hard work, discipline, fairness, sportsmanship and dignity in victory as well as defeat. 

In other words, he is manifestly unsuited for the cut-throat world of big-time college football where the credo is simple: do it to the other guy first before he does it to you. 

But he’ll come to Georgia Southern with a ton of credibility thanks to his USC experience and the perfectly reasonable expectation that he will thrive in the lower-key environment of mid-major college football. 

Many USC fans happy to see him go forgot that his overall record with the Trojans was 46-24, meaning that he won more than two-thirds of the games he coached. 

But there were three problems that led to his sudden exit after several years of accumulated complaints. The first problem was that he always seemed to lose the big games, the games that would lead to a major bowl game. The second problem was that his teams consistently displayed a pattern of sloppy play at key moments and committed a plethora of penalties at just the wrong time, killing Trojan drives on offense and giving the other team a helping hand on defense. 

The third problem – the growing trend of failing to recruit the very best of the best, the elite SoCal players – was driving the fat-cat USC boosters nuts. Why should they donate the big bucks to USC if they weren’t going to get to cheer every Saturday for the best players in the Southland – like they had during the Pete Carroll era?

And ultimately, that’s what Helton’s real problem was: he wasn’t Pete Carroll, and never could be or would be. And just as Carroll has found his natural habitat in the NFL, so Helton has found his natural habitat in the Sun Belt Conference. Look for Georgia Southern to start dominating the conference in the next few years.

Happy Trails to the Clay Helton era at USC.

A classless coach

Speaking of football coaches who leave their high-profile jobs either voluntarily or involuntarily, there is one local high school football coach who should be fired immediately.

But he hasn’t been fired.

At least not yet.

Inglewood High School Head Coach Mil’Von James presided over a 106-0 win over longtime neighborhood rival Morningside High School last week in a game that was so shameful that the Inglewood High Principal quickly issued a formal apology for the lack of sportsmanship displayed by the team and its coach.

Believe it or not, some people actually defended James and his team. Their argument: as long as the game wasn’t canceled after it got out of hand, Inglewood had no choice but to keep playing to win and let the score be whatever the score is.

But the evidence that James and his team were abusing the basic principles of sportsmanship was crystal clear. First and foremost: James kept his star quarterback on the field for the entire game, risking an injury that could have cut short his career. And he never gave his backup quarterback a chance to play, which might have slowed the scoring onslaught.

The clearest evidence that James was not coaching in good faith: After Inglewood’s last TD that ran their point total up to 104 – thereby getting it over the magic 100-point mark — James ordered his team to go for a two-point conversion rather than just kick the ball through the goal posts for 1 point. 

That’s pure and simple the behavior of a bully.

And no one loves a bully.

As word of the 106-0 score spread online, the backlash was swift, loud and almost unanimous: there is something fundamentally wrong with a coach who would do such a thing.

By Monday morning, Inglewood High Principal Debbie Tate had issued a lengthy statement about the debacle.

“We did not conduct ourselves with sportsmanship and integrity and the final score was unacceptable,” Tate said.

One of the apparent drivers of the blowout was the goal of letting Inglewood’s star quarterback, Justyn Martin, set a CIF-Southern Section record by throwing for 13 touchdowns in a game that was over for all practical purposes by the end of the first quarter when the Sentinels had already built up a 52-0 lead.

It was a mind-boggling 86-0 at halftime. And the final score would have been even more absurdly lop-sided if the game officials hadn’t used a running clock in the second half – meaning the game clock didn’t stop for time outs, injuries, scores, etc. Without that restraint, James and his team might have piled up 200 points.

Since Martin had already announced his commitment to attend UCLA a week before the Morningside game, it’s hard to see why humiliating their neighborhood rivals or risking a catastrophic injury was worth his setting a CIF record. It’s not like he needed to impress the UCLA coaches.

Principal Tate also said that Coach James “has offered his apologies to the Morningside High School football program and the larger school community.” However, that sounded like something she insisted on inserting into her statement because James himself had nothing to say about his out-of-control approach to the game. As of Monday night, he still had not commented publicly on why he did it or apologized to anybody.

Shortly after Tate had issued her apology, the CIF-Southern Section released its own statement about the controversial game. “The CIF Southern Section expects that all athletic contests are to be conducted under the strictest code of good sportsmanship. We expect coaches, players, officials, administrators and students to adhere to the Six Pillars of Character – Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. A score of 106-0 does not represent these ideals. The CIF-SS condemns, in the strongest terms, results such as these. It is our expectation that the Inglewood administration will work towards putting in place an action plan so that an event such as this does not repeat itself.”

That prompted the Inglewood Unified School District to quickly jump in and issue a statement of its own. “We will conduct a full investigation and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that a similar outcome never happens again under an IUSD athletic program.”

There’s really no investigation necessary – the score is the score, and nothing’s going to change that or how it happened. And there’s no secret about what needs to be done to make sure it never happens again: Fire Coach James.

In the end, it was left to Morningside Coach Brian Collins, the man on the other end of the disrespectful bullying, the man who had to watch his players endure a painful humiliation that seemed like it would never end and try to explain to them why it was happening, to cut through all the bureaucratic blather and get to the heart of why the blowout was so reprehensible: “I think it was classless,” Collins said. 

Amen, Brother. 

Classless.

A classless act that was the worst kind of example for all the neighborhood kids who watched the game – no matter which school they favored — and wondered if this was how you’re supposed to act in an athletic contest between arch-rivals.

It’s not.

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor                   

Comments:

comments so far. Comments posted to EasyReaderNews.com may be reprinted in the Easy Reader print edition, which is published each Thursday.

Be an Easy Reader Free Press supporter!

Yes, we know Easy Reader and EasyReaderNews.com are free. But they are not free to produce. The advertiser model that traditionally supported newspapers is fading away. This is our way of transitioning to a future where newspapers are supported by their readers. Which is as it should be. We hope you’ll support us. — Kevin Cody, Publisher