All Ball Sports: Redondo, Costa favorites to win league, Chargers’ Staley nobody’s favorite
by Paul Teetor
Watch out, Bay League football teams: here come Redondo and Mira Costa.
For the first time in seemingly forever, both the Sea Hawks and the Mustangs are co-favorites to rule the Bay League this fall, along with traditional power Palos Verdes.
Of course, anything can happen once league play starts Friday. But Redondo will travel to Peninsula Friday night proudly carrying a 5-0 record, while Costa, with a 4-1 record and one of the most explosive offenses in the entire South Bay, will host Culver City.
Redondo was fortunate to remain unbeaten Friday night when they held on to defeat West by a too-close score of 13-9.
Sea Hawk quarterback Christian Hunt, who has been completing more than 60 percent of his passes and was the main engine of their revival, opened the game by throwing a rare interception. It was an ominous beginning.
West capitalized by completing a 41-yard pass and eventually advanced the ball to the Redondo 1-yard line. But the drive stalled there when the Sea Hawks stopped West cold on a fourth-and-goal run.
Buoyed by the defensive stand, Redondo grabbed a lead in the second quarter when Hunt threw two touchdown passes. First Hunt connected with Bobby Shaw on a 12-yard strike and later he found Nate Stiveson for a 13-yard touchdown. That gave the Sea Hawks a 13-0 halftime lead.
First year coach Keith Ellison, who took over a team that had bottomed out the last few seasons, professed to be unimpressed with the Sea Hawks quick turnaround and their 5-0 record.
“It just means we’re halfway through our season and we have a lot of work to do,” Ellison said. “Honestly, we’re putting no stock into it right now because this isn’t our goal. Our goal is to compete for the Bay League title, and try to get into the playoffs and try to do something there. So this is just the start for us, hopefully.”
Mira Costa, meanwhile, had to rely on its explosive offense and a second-half comeback to beat Villa Park 28-21 Friday night.
The Mustangs, who came into the game averaging 38 points, opened up their passing game in the second half and used workhorse running back Matthew Kraskouskas to plow through the Spartans defense on a long scoring drive.
Villa Park received the opening kickoff and employed a rapid no-huddle offense in an 80-yard scoring drive, which ended with a 4-yard touchdown run.
The Mustangs answered with a 68-yard scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from Kraskouskas to tie the score at 7-7.
Mira Costa’s Archie Iacono recovered a fumble on the Villa Park 35-yard line, but two plays later, the Spartans answered with a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
The Mustangs roared back with two touchdowns in the third quarter. The first score came on a 38-yard scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Nicolas De La Cruz to Joe Brewer to tie the score at 14-14, and the second came on a 9-yard touchdown run from Kraskouskas to give Mira Costa its first lead of the game, 20-14. Kraskouskas carried the ball on six of seven plays on the 39-yard drive.
The Spartans grabbed the lead back at 21-20, but on a third and 7 from the Mira Cosa 43 De La Cruz connected with Cole Crotty for a 43-yard touchdown to give the Mustangs a 7-point lead after the 2-point conversion.
The climax of the regular season for both beach city teams will come October 28, when Mira Costa travels to Redondo for the annual backyard brawl with the Sea Hawks. The way both teams are playing right now, that game could also decide the Bay League championship.
Staley on the Hot Seat
Chargers Coach Brandon Staley should be fired right now – before he does any more damage to his team and/or its superstar quarterback.
It wasn’t just that he left an injured Justin Herbert in the game when the Chargers were trailing the Jacksonville Jaguars by 28 points Sunday afternoon with less than five minutes left.
And it wasn’t even that he left Herbert in the game when the Chargers were trailing by 21 points with 10 minutes left.
Both of those were crazy decisions. But the original sin was that he let Herbert play at all in a game he never should have been in. He should have been watching from the sidelines in street clothes.
The Chargers were crushed by the Jaguars 38-10. But even though the loss knocked the Chargers record down to 1-2, that wasn’t the biggest story.
The more important story was Staley’s reckless handling of Herbert. Reckless for his team’s long-term future and reckless for Herbert’s long-term health and success.
Staley should know by now that not one injured player – not a single, solitary injured player – in the history of pro sports has ever told his or her coach that they can’t play in the next game or the next play.
In the macho, Darwinian, only-the-strong-survive world of pro sports, it simply isn’t done. Anyone who begged out of a game would be the laughingstock of the locker room.
Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play: That’s the eternal theme song of the pro athlete – second only to that perennial favorite, show me the money.
And that’s why it’s up to the coach to protect the player from himself.
The 39-year-old Staley displayed his dangerous ignorance of this fundamental truth last week when he put Herbert back in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs after Herbert was knocked flat on his back – and nearly knocked out — with what was later diagnosed as fractured rib cartilage.
The injured Herbert absorbed several more huge body blows late in that game as he tried to manufacture a fantastic finish that was never going to happen. The Chiefs won 27-24 and Herbert limped off the field and into the locker room.
In the heat of the moment, Staley could be excused for getting carried away and risking Herbert’s long-term health – which of course means the long-term health of his team – with his impulsive decision to re-insert Herbert after he sat out for just one play.
“No one is more concerned with Justin’s health and well-being than I am,” Staley said after the game. “He wanted to go back in and we determined it would be all right.”
Ok, fine. Understandable in the emotional context of the last few minutes of a closely contested game with your arch-rivals for the AFC Western Conference title.
But there’s no good explanation other than stupidity and arrogance for the way Staley treated Herbert’s injury over the next 10 days, and then in Sunday’s game with the Jaguars.
When the Chargers disclosed the next day after the Chiefs loss that x-rays showed Herbert had fractured his rib cartilage – the soft tissue that cushions the rib area and helps with breathing – he said Herbert was “day to day” and offered little else. For his part, the normally cooperative Herbert declined to interact with the media or speculate on whether or not he would play against the Jaguars.
But Herbert’s fans – and dedicated readers know there are none bigger than All Ball – were hoping against hope that Staley would do the right thing, put his foot down, act like a coach with the respect of his players, and declare decisively that Herbert would not play against Jacksonville, and in fact would not play again until he was 100 percent healthy or damn close to it.
Why? Because Herbert is far and away the best and most important player on the Chargers, a guy who already owns every important record – passes completed, yards accumulated, touchdowns thrown – for a quarterback’s first two years in the NFL since they started keeping records in 1950. Not just for the Chargers, but for every team and every quarterback that has ever played in the NFL in the last 72 years.
Players that good that early don’t come along very often.
At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, with a laser-beam arm and surprisingly agile feet, Herbert has displayed all the tools a modern quarterback needs to be an elite player. Coming into this season he was already a consensus top 5 quarterback, along with Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady.
In Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars, Herbert put up sub-par numbers – 25 of 45 for 297 yards, one touchdown and an interception and a fumble.
Numbers aside, he looked like an ordinary quarterback – passes often too high, too low, or in the dirt — way too often for a team that depends on him to be great all the time.
There was some vintage Herbert magic, including a gorgeous 54-yard strike down the middle to Jalen Guyton on the first drive of the third quarter and a 45-yard bullet to Joshua Palmer at the very end of the third quarter.
But most of the time he was shaky and halting, lacking his usually fluid movements. Consider that immediately after the pass to Guyton that took the Chargers to the Jacksonville 26, Herbert threw the ball away on three straight downs in the red zone, partly because of coverage and partly because he had to escape pressure. That only happened because his ribs were hurting.
After the game Staley had a lot of explaining to do.
He didn’t do it very well.
First, he had to explain why Herbert started the game while badly injured.
“We communicated with him all the way up until this morning and he was awesome,” Staley said. “Our medical team was awesome. His agents, his team, we were together throughout the whole process and he did the best he could today.”
Then, when asked why Herbert was still out there with a 38-10 deficit and only 4:54 to play, he did the most despicable thing a coach can do: he put the blame for his own mistakes on a player.
“He wanted to be out there with his teammates. He felt good and he wanted to finish the game, wanted to give our group some energy. And, you know, we were going to protect him there at the end, really sound protection as best we could. But it was more about him wanting to finish with his guys. … It’s hard to explain, but it was important for us to do it.”
Hard to explain is the understatement of the year. It was crazy, reckless and frankly a firing offense. The idea that his teammates didn’t understand what Herbert was going through and needed him to show them his courage right to the bitter end is patently absurd.
If the Spanos family weren’t so distracted by its family feud and busy suing each other while making all kinds of wild financial claims against their siblings – they would move quickly, like this week, to get Staley out of there.
For his part, Herbert was a loyal soldier, supporting his coach all the way.
“I felt like I was safe out there,” Herbert said. “And I didn’t want to quit on the team. It’s part of the game, dealing with injuries and dealing with pain. A lot of the guys in that locker room don’t feel great. And it’s all about how you react and how you respond. I’m going to do everything I can to go to treatment, take care of my body, so hopefully this thing will go away.”
The Chargers could have lost 38-10 Sunday afternoon just as easily with backup quarterback Chase Daniel, or even with third-stringer Easton Stick. But now Herbert’s injury has been aggravated by the pounding he took Sunday, and if he is lost for a significant amount of time a once-promising season could turn into a disaster thanks to Staley.
The Chargers have road games the next two weeks at Houston (now 0-2-1 after losing to the Bears on a last second field goal), and at Cleveland (2-1 after crushing Pittsburgh Thursday). Then they welcome Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos to So-Fi Stadium. They could easily be 2-4, or 1-5 at the end of that stretch, depending on Herbert’s health going forward.
And how they manage his health is going to be critical, because as Staley said Sunday afternoon: “This injury is going to be there for a while. If you guys know the injury, it’s not like it’s going to feel better next week or the week after that … He felt good today. And we’re going to continue to manage it as best we can.”
Asked what it would take for him to make Herbert sit out a game or two, Staley was vague.
“I’m sure there will come a point,” he said. “I hope we don’t get into a game like this again. But I’m sure that there definitely would be a point where we would do that, and when that time comes, we’ll make the decision.”
Too little, too late.
Fire the man already and get it over with — before he commits more self-inflicted damage.
Contact: email@example.com. Follow: @paulteetor