All Ball Sports: Mira Costa High School Mustangs bring down Redondo High Sea Hawks

Photos by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor

It was all over by halftime.

You could tell it by the starkly different body language as the two teams headed for their respective locker rooms.

Mira Costa’s Thomas Southey reels in the first of his three touchdown passes. He also kicked four extra points. Photo by Ray Vidal

Mira Costa football players strutted off Redondo’s home field Friday night with a 28-0 lead and the clear expectation of putting up a third straight win in the annual rivalry game and getting their name engraved on the traditional Battle of the Beach surfboard – an honor that goes to the winner each year. 

Redondo players shuffled off the field, shoulders slumped and eyes cast downward, with the goal of at least playing a better second half against their archrival.

Both teams achieved their goal. The Mustangs claimed surfboard rights with a 35-14 win and the Sea Hawks reclaimed their pride with two second half touchdowns while holding the prolific Mustang offense to a single TD.

But what a potent offense it was in a remarkable first half that demonstrated just how close Costa came to having an unbeaten, pandemic-shortened, six-game season instead of finishing 3-3 overall and 3-2 in the Bay League.

The night game got underway in ideal conditions for spring football: clear skies and a still-bright sun to offset the cool breeze swirling inside Sea Hawk Stadium. With COVID-19 protocols limiting the number of fans admitted mainly to family members, the Costa side of the field had about 150 people in the stands while the Redondo side of the field could only muster about 100 fans to watch the Senior Day ceremonies held before the game.

Mira Costa Coach Don Morrow, who recalibrated his offensive mix – less passing, more running – after watching his team open the season with three straight, close losses to very good teams, stuck to his new formula.

Redondo’s Robert Baker gets ahead of Mira Costa’s Charlie Kohler. Photo by Ray Vidal
All Ball Sports

Redondo kicked off to start the game and the Mustangs ran and ran – two wide sweeps and two off-tackle slants – on their first four plays from scrimmage. 

But on their fifth play quarterback Casey Pavlick launched a 57-yard bomb to the left corner of the end zone. Surrounded by defensive backs closing in on him from all sides, wide receiver Thomas Southey got just enough separation to haul in the perfectly placed pass. The Mira Costa sideline exploded in cheers as their meal-ticket all season long – Pavlick to Southey for a TD – propelled the Mustangs to a promising start. Two minutes into the game and it was already 7-0 after Southey kicked the point after.

Redondo’s Preston Arembart brings down Mira Costa’s Casey Pavlick

The pumped-up Mustang defense came out and stuffed the Sea Hawks cold on their first two running attempts. But on third down quarterback Alex Wunderli connected for a first down and it looked like this might become a classic backyard brawl between the two long-time rivals. After all, their one common opponent, traditional Bay League powerhouse Palos Verdes, had only defeated Redondo 16-14 by kicking a field goal with just four seconds left in the game. PV handled Costa a bit easier by a 40-21 score. So based on those results it was certainly possible the Sea Hawks could win this game, or at least make it close and competitive.

Led by fierce linebackers Zane Thormodsgaard and Brett McCalla, the Mustangs next stopped the Sea Hawks cold on three runs and forced them to punt. Redondo avoided immediate disaster when Pavlick overthrew an open receiver in the end zone. But soon after he lofted a 23-yard moon-shot towards the right sideline and Southey, barely 6-feet tall but an elite athlete, outleaped the defensive back who was draped all over him. Suddenly it was 14-0 halfway through the first quarter and the delirious Costa crowd cheered wildly as the sun set and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees.

Christian Hunt finds his target.

With the stadium lights now shining down brightly, Redondo again went three and out after a big-time sack stopped their progress cold and forced them to punt.

Amazingly, Pavlick and Southey did it yet again. This time Southey, who made first team All Bay League last year and is a lock to make it again this year, ran a sideline route and Pavlick found him in full stride for the 8-yard TD. Now it was 21-0 Mustangs and everyone in the stadium could feel that a blowout was looming on the immediate horizon. One more Mustang TD without a Sea Hawk score would do it, and both sides knew it.

After yet another 3-and-out by the Sea Hawks, Pavlick showed he isn’t totally reliant on Southey, the team’s best player, for all his passing magic.   

First he hit Riley Bloomstrand on a beautiful 29-yard strike, and followed that up with a 21-yard dart to Danny Millea that got them deep in the red zone. With just four yards to go for a TD, Pavlick found Christian Hunter in the left corner of the endzone. Southey kicked his fourth consecutive extra point to give the Mustangs their 28-0 halftime lead.

While the offense was operating at full throttle, the Costa defense was stifling: they held the Sea Hawks to just 19 total yards in the first half.

Costa pumped its lead up to 35-0 early in the third quarter when Ryan Moreno sprinted into the endzone from 21 yards out.

But still Redondo kept fighting to make it respectable as Wunderli connected with Nick Ponsiglione for a 20-yard TD pass in the third quarter and then tacked on an 83-yard TD pass to Malakai Jones in the fourth quarter.

Redondo finished 1-4 on the season and 1-3 in the Bay League, with its only win coming against Peninsula.

For Southey and the other Mira Costa seniors it was a great ending to a season that first looked like it was never going to happen and then looked like a disaster in the making when they lost their first three games.

Southey grew up in Manhattan Beach and attended Grand View Elementary and Manhattan Beach Middle School. He spent his freshman year at St. John Bosco before transferring to Mira Costa, where he knew he’d have a better shot at playing varsity right away.

Last season he developed a great connection with Slingin’ Sam Whitney, the Costa QB who was named the Bay League Most Valuable Player after setting eight school passing records.

This season the football team started practicing last November without any guarantee there would actually be any games for them to play.

“It was really tough for some of the guys to stay motivated in practice,” Southey said. “But we kept grinding away.”

In January, however, Whitney grew so discouraged that there might not be any games he transferred to a Connecticut prep school. The cross-country move came as a shock and disappointment to the seniors who had looked forward to a great season with their star quarterback primed to produce even more yards and more TD’s than he did last season.

“We talked a lot about it,” Southey said. “I totally understood why he did it. Sam really loves football, and he’s a great player.”

Indeed, when the season finally started with Pavlick having moved up from the JV to take Whitney’s place, Southey didn’t know what to expect from his new QB.   

“Casey is a year younger than Sam, so he had a lot of stuff to learn. I told him I wasn’t sure he could do what Sam did last year,” he said.

Amazingly, Pavlick’s numbers in the first three games this year were comparable to Whitney’s numbers last year, as Coach Morrow stuck with the Air Raid offense that overwhelmed most teams last year.

“I was really surprised by how well Casey played this year right from the start,” Southey said. “But when you look at him he’s the same height as Sam, 5-11, and he’s athletic and competitive just like Sam is. He’ll play at the next level, just like Sam will.”

Southey averaged 10 catches a game in the first three games, but then Morrow abruptly switched gears and went to a ground-and-pound offense that produced three straight wins to salvage a .500 season. Southey averaged little more than 2 catches a game in that season-closing stretch. 

“I just had to suck it up and be a team player,” he said. “As long as we started winning games I was cool with it.”

Friday night Pavlick connected on 9 of 13 passes for 166 yards and four touchdowns. Southey had five catches for 106 yards and three touchdowns. For the short season he had 40 receptions for 579 yards and 12 touchdowns, with 264 yards gained after the catch.  

While Southey looks forward to playing college ball next year – he’s not sure where it will be yet – he still has plenty of Mira Costa games to look forward to before graduation.

“I’m playing both soccer and lacrosse this spring,” he said Sunday night. “In fact, I have a lacrosse game tomorrow.”

A tale of two quarterbacks

Remember Sam Darnold?

Of course you do. Just three years ago he was the hottest college football player in LA, the biggest and brightest star quarterback at USC since Carson Palmer brought home the Heisman trophy 20 years ago. A local SoCal kid – well, Orange County is local in the big picture – he was so good as a big, strong passer with good mobility that the New York Jets selected him third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.

And how about Josh “Chosen” Rosen? Remember him? A true local kid – the pride of Manhattan Beach, the greatest football player ever to come out of the Beach Cities – he was a slingin’ star QB at St. John Bosco and later at UCLA. While not as mobile as Darnold he had so much arm talent – as the scouts like to call it — that the Arizona Cardinals selected him 10th overall in that same 2018 draft.

Both local kids were deemed can’t-miss prospects by the sports pundits who make a living yakking about football 365 days a year. And most days of the year their bloviating is about quarterbacks, because that is by far the most important position in football. Indeed, it is the most important position in all of sports, at least in terms of having the biggest impact on the greatest number of players. Until the QB takes the snap and either runs, passes or hands the ball off, nothing can happen with the other 21 players on the field.

But that was then.

This is now.

Now the two local kids have fallen so far in just three years that they both may never start an NFL game again.

Oh sure, they got paid the big bucks guaranteed to players drafted that high. But now it’s not about money. It’s about salvaging their careers and continuing to play the game they grew up loving while dreaming of the day they would play in the NFL.

Darnold was the latest and biggest casualty last week when the Jets traded him to the Carolina Panthers for three draft picks, none of them a first rounder.

It was a breath-taking fall for the 23-year-old QB. Just three years ago with the Jets he became the youngest opening day starter in the NFL since 1970. He went on that year to set the franchise record for completion percentage by a rookie QB with 57%. For a franchise that boasts the great Joe Namath and the Beach Cities own Ken O’Brien, a two-time Pro Bowl QB, that’s pretty impressive.

But the Jets have long been a dysfunctional franchise. A combination of bad coaches, bad injuries and bad weapons at the skill positions conspired to make Darnold’s next two seasons a living nightmare – every bit of it chronicled in the city’s two tabloid newspapers, the Post and the Daily News, who compete for the most outrageous back-page sports headline every day.

The criticism of Darnold and the dissection of his game – he makes bad decisions, forces impossible passes and turns it over too often — finally got to be too much and it was obvious he had to go. When the Jets finished with a 2-14 record this season, which earned them the second pick in next week’s draft, they made it clear they were done with Darnold and intended to draft a new savior – most likely BYU’s Zach Wilson. Hence the pre-draft trade with the Panthers.

But compared to Rosen’s fate, Darnold still has value in a league where your sell-by date can come awfully quickly.

After a rocky rookie year with the Cardinals, Rosen was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2019 right after the Cardinals drafted Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and touted him as their new savior – the same message they had put out about Rosen just 12 months earlier.

After a rocky season in Miami, Rosen was waived and later signed to the Tampa Bay practice squad. Two months later the San Francisco 49ers signed him off the Bucs practice squad and he was active for their last two games but did not see any action. In February the Niners signed him to a one-year contract as a third string QB behind Jimmy Garappolo and Nick Mullens.

Now the talk-show buzz is that the Niners are looking to dump Jimmy G – maybe even ship him back to New England, where he started out – and draft a brand spanking new QB. That would still leave Rosen – known in high school and college as “Chosen” Rosen because he’s Jewish and because his future was so bright – as the third-string scrub. 

The moral of the story: with each new crop of college quarterbacks coming into the pros, there are new hopes and dreams by teams, fans and pundits alike. Many – if not most – of those dreams turn into nightmares before too long.    

It’s just a matter of time.     

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

 

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Written by: Paul Teetor

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