LOS ANGELES — No matter what side they were cheering for — the Flintridge Prep or Malibu High football team — the fans in Occidental College stadium rose to their feet Friday night to cheer the wild, roller coaster affair that went into overtime and lasted more than three hours.
While Prep led by six points with just over a minute to go in the game, it was handed another heartbreaking loss in overtime to the Sharks, 40-34, after Malibu’s Brennan Cassone recovered a Flintridge Prep fumble to start the extra frame and Malibu quarterback Chase Gardella followed it up with a 14-yard touchdown run on third down and 12 to deliver the Sharks victory.
Even so, it didn’t stop the Prep faithful from showering its team with praise and Rebels chants when it returned to the sideline. Still, Flintridge Prep Coach Antonio Harrison wasn’t content with a close finish.
“You know, moral victories are great in the situation we’ve been in,” said Harrison in reference to last season when Prep went 1-8 and forfeited two games due to small roster being hit hard by injuries, “but moral victories have got to stop and we need a real victory. These boys have to find a way to pull it together. They’re prepared, they’re ready. It’s hard I know, they haven’t had a tradition of winning in the three years that they’ve played, but that’s what we’re trying to do — rebuild.”
Stefan Smith seemed like he was going to will the Rebels to victory. He accounted for 324 yards of total offense (235 rushing in 20 carries and 89 receiving on four catches) and four of five touchdowns for Prep. He also single-handedly sent the game into overtime when he blocked Malibu’s extra-point attempt after the Sharks tied the game at 34 with nine seconds left in regulation. The tie came on a two-yard rollout touchdown run from Gardella, who accounted for all of Malibu’s scores as he completed 17 of 29 passes for 323 yards, two touchdowns and also ran for 128 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries.
“Stefan is unbelievable,” said Harrison, whose team fell to 1-3 this season and also dropped its season opener in overtime against Army-Navy, 32-30. “He’s a man among boys, plays his butt off and he never stops. I have a lot of respect him.”
The Sharks had a one-two punch in Cassone and Gardella that Smith couldn’t outdo, though. Cassone was Gardella’s favorite target, as he hauled in nine passes for 229 yards and a score.
A Prep win looked to be locked up, though, when Smith scored his fourth touchdown of the day on a four-yard run with 1:04 left in regulation. The Rebels had gone for two-point conversions on their previous four touchdown drives and were successful on two of them, but they attempted an extra-point kick for a potential seven-point lead, but it was way off to leave Prep with a six-point lead, 34-28.
As has been a theme this year, the Rebels were too drained on defense to hold down Gardella and Cassone for too long, as Prep had defensive lineman Cameron Wen and defensive back Thomas Turchan leave the game with injuries and several others miss plays with cramps.
Gardella and Cassone connected two times for 22 and 32 yards in the final minute, as Cassone was chased down by Kurt Kozacik, who finished with 77 rushing yards on 16 carries on offense, at Prep’s 12-yard line.
Gardella scampered for a 10-yard run on the next play and then punched it in from two yards out with nine seconds to go to send the game into overtime.
“It’s tough [to go into overtime], but if you counted Malibu’s players and you counted ours we’ve got the same number,” Harrison said. “I guess I’m doing something wrong with conditioning because every game, no matter whether it’s 100 degrees or it’s 70 and a beautiful football night my stars cramp. I have to go back and reevaluate how I’m conditioning these guys. I’m taking the blame for that because it happens every game and I’ve got to fix it. If I have to dedicate my entire week to not cramping ... through preventative measures and have them eating bananas, drinking Pedialyte, stretching and running and that’s all we do then that’s all we do.”
The Rebels went into halftime with an eight-point lead, 22-14, but nearly had a two-score advantage going into the break. Prep’s Dylan Colliflower sparked a late drive when he forced a Malibu fumble at his team’s own 10 and saw it recovered by Turchan at the 21 with 4:13 to go before the half.
Prep mounted an 11-play drive that reached Malibu’s one with 20 seconds to go on a six-yard run from Kyle Hamane, who finished 46 rushing yards and a touchdown on five carries. Kozacik nearly punched it in on the next play but was stopped just short.
The Rebels rushed to get another play off, but committed an illegal snap penalty with one second left, which pushed them back to the six, and the ensuing pass from quarterback Clayton Weirick, who completed five of seven passes for 96 yards, a touchdown and an interception, was off target to keep the score at 22-14.
“I have to give it up to Flintridge, they came out with a good gameplan and they ran it,” Malibu Coach Ray Humphrey said. “They ran the ball very well tonight and you have to give it up to them. They’ve changed in a whole year. Harrison has done a good job with them in a year.”