First half momentum propels Mustangs past Sea Hawks
Whitney, Southey connect for three TDs
It was only a 3-yard pass, but rarely has a single play had such a huge impact on a rivalry game.
After the Mira Costa and Redondo football teams fought and scrapped their way to a 7-7 tie shortly before halftime Friday night, the Mustangs got the ball back near mid-field with less than a minute left. It looked like they might have just enough time to get a couple of first downs and kick a field goal to grab a 3-point lead heading into their locker room.
But Mustangs quarterback “Slingin” Sam Whitney was thinking bigger. First, he launched a 25-yard rainbow pass to wide receiver Thomas Southey to get them to the 3-yard line with just four seconds left. There was only time for one more play and an important decision would have to be made.
A field goal kick would be a gimme for Southey, the talented wide receiver who doubles as Costa’s strong-legged kicker. And at least it would give the heavily favored Mustangs a 3-point lead to cling to at halftime.
But head coach Don Morrow made the decision to forgo a field goal try and go for the TD. Whitney faded back, avoided a ferocious rush, scrambled right and threw back against the grain to find Southey in the left corner of the end zone, where he fought off two Sea Hawk defenders for a TD that electrified the home crowd that had packed Waller Stadium for the annual Battle at the Beach game.
Southey kicked the point after and the jubilant Mustangs were running on air as they headed for their locker room with a 14-7 lead.
An hour later, moments after Costa’s 35-14 victory gave them sole possession of second place in the Bay League and backyard bragging rights for the next 12 months, Morrow explained his decision to pass up a point-blank field goal try at the end of the first half.
“We wanted to be aggressive, that was our motto all night,” he said. “We were willing to pass up the field goal to take a chance on getting the touchdown instead. I always have confidence in Sammy to throw the right pass at the right time.”
The impact of that single play was tremendous, according to both coaches.
“That was huge for us, huge for our team spirit,” Morrow said. “It gave us such a lift in the locker room. We practiced that play all year, and tonight it worked to perfection.”
Redondo coach Matt Ballard agreed.
“It was like we got the wind knocked out of us,” he said. “We never seemed to recover.”
Indeed, in the second half, Whitney and the Mustangs looked like the team that had won its last three games in overwhelming fashion instead of the tentative team that scored only one first-half touchdown prior to that last-second score.
Costa took the second half kick-off and immediately started marching down the field from their own 38-yard line. First Whitney connected with wide-out Kian Towfighi for 13 yards, followed by half-back Bryce Carlisle running around right end for six more yards.
Firing on all cylinders now, Whitney threw for 10 yards to Jackson Fischer, followed by an 11-yard pass to Southey. A direct snap to Fischer produced 9 more yards, and Whitney finished off the drive with a 16-yard pass to a leaping Southey in the end zone. Suddenly it was 21-7 Mustangs and the momentum generated from the last-second first-half touchdown had paid off with yet another touchdown.
Whitney and Southey kept up their connection with a 9-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 28-7 lead. The Mustang lead ballooned to 35-7 when 240-pound freshman sensation Jagger Tavai caused a fumble that was picked up by Carlisle and run in for a 35-yard touchdown that put the game on ice.
Redondo quarterback Daniel Webb scored on a 2-yard touchdown run, but it was too little, too late and merely provided the final points in the rout. As the game’s last seconds ticked down, Mustang players were head-butting each other, the home-team marching band belted out a victory song, and the student section started singing “We are the Champions.”
Morrow reveled in the celebrations erupting all around him.
“These rivalry games always bring out a lot of emotions,” he said. “On both sides.”
Whitney and Southey combined for some eye-popping statistics. Whitney connected on 29 of 44 passes for 390 yards and four touchdowns. Added to the incredible totals he posted throughout the season, Whitney set seven new school passing records. Southey caught eight balls for 122 yards and three touchdowns. He also kicked five extra points.
Mira Costa finished the regular season at 4-1 in the league and 7-3 overall. Redondo finished at 3-2 and third place in the league, and 6-4 overall.
Both teams will go on the road Friday night for first-round playoff games. The Mustangs will play at Oxnard Pacifica, and the Sea Hawks will play at Fontana Kaiser.
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