The buildup to this game was tremendous. It was homecoming weekend at Redondo Union. The Sea Hawks were intent on avenging a loss last year to Palos Verdes. They were focused on their fall-camp quest to go undefeated in Bay League play and emerging as undisputed champions.
Certainly, the Sea Hawks knew that Palos Verdes was no soft touch, that their Bay League rivals posed a formidable obstacle in the way of their goal. But in the heart of every Sea Hawks' player, the belief was that they would prevail.
"We practiced hard all week. We had a great four days of practice,'' senior defensive end Jayson Baytosh said.
It wasn't wasted effort, but it went unrewarded. Workhorse tailback Marc Sasso rushed 30 times for 174 yards and three short touchdown runs on Friday to carry Palos Verdes to a 21-7 victory. The Sea Kings boosted their record to 8-1 overall and 3-1 in Bay League play. Redondo Union tasted defeat for the first time in league action, falling to 6-3 and 3-1.
"We can practice hard all we want, but if we don't execute it doesn't mean a thing,'' senior cornerback Kem Richards said. "Execution has been a big problem for us all year in big games.''
That was not supposed to be the case this year.
The Sea Hawks believed, and made sure that belief ran deep by punctuating the end of their practices with, "One, two, three … Bay League champs.'' They believed, even though they have been without two injured players that could have been offensive difference makers—junior running back Deon Williams and senior wide receiver Brandon Boyd.
The emotion of the defeat overwhelmed senior two-way lineman Adam Ammentorp. "First game I've ever cried after,'' he admitted.
His heartache was shared.
"It hurts a lot,'' senior safety Jon Catsavas said, lingering on the field at the game's conclusion. "This is the second year in a row that I've lost to P.V. Now, we have to go play Mira Costa and Costa is an even better team.''
The haggard look on Redondo Union coach Gene Simon's face after the game spoke volumes.
"We couldn't executive offensively,'' Simon said. "And I don't blame the kids, I blame myself.''
If only Redondo Union were able to clone what it accomplished on its second offensive possession. The Sea Hawks sliced a 14-0 deficit in half when junior tailback Ryan Spiwak climaxed a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 6:26 remaining the second quarter.
Redondo Union junior quarterback Nick Pope got that drive cranking with a 36-yard pass to tight end L.J. Ben-Amor. Another sparkling play during that drive was a 15-yard first-down run by wide receiver Hunter Bradshaw on a reverse.
Watching that drive unfold it would have been difficult to envision the offensive inconsistency that was ahead. Redondo Union had the ball five times in the second half. One of those possessions came after a third-quarter interception by Richards. But four of those possessions fizzled, ending with punts.
The Sea Hawks lost the ball on downs on their final possession, in the waning seconds of the game. Twice in the second half, Redondo Union got penalized for having two players in motion simultaneously.
Spiwak carried the ball 13 times for 88 yards, but just when he and the Sea Hawks' offense appeared to be rolling, a critical penalty would cause a stall. Spiwak said he was at a loss to explain the problems.
"It was our inability to get our offense organized at crucial times,'' Simon said. "Then it got unraveled. That's my fault. I'll take the entire blame for that.''
Although Redondo Union's defense played well, its lone critical breakdown led to the biggest momentum change in the game.
The Sea Hawks trailed 14-7, when Palos Verdes faced a 3rd-and-6 from its 35-yard line. Sasso took a handoff and slanted right, where a posse of Redondo Union defenders had him bottled up. But Sasso shifted as smoothly as a Maserati on a European turnpike, reversing his field to the right and rambling 38 yards before he was pulled down. Three players later, Sasso was in the end zone for his third touchdown, on a 3-yard run.
But it was his long run that sapped the Sea Hawks' spirit. Had they been able to finish him off before he reversed field, Palos Verdes would have been forced to punt.
"We got overly excited on the backside, trying to scrape down. He's a good running back and he cut it back on us,'' senior two-way lineman John Miller said.
"We got so sucked in that we forgot about our responsibilities,'' Catsavaas said. ''We didn't respect his speed and he cut back on us.''
The loss is not fatal to the Sea Hawks' post-season dreams. Redondo Union is on track to reach the playoffs, so the season will not end with next week's regular-season finale against rival Mira Costa.
"We beat ourselves tonight with mistakes,'' senior cornerback Drew Wright said. "It's disappointing but we can't look at it like the season is over, because it isn't.''