While making its first foray past the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Northeast Division playoffs in nearly a decade, the Flintridge Prep football team isn’t heading into Friday’s second-round tilt with Mission Prep with a just-happy-to-be-here attitude.
The Rebels are decided underdogs to the top-seeded Royals, but aren’t conceding anything as they tune up to take a shot at Goliath at 7:30 p.m. at La Cañada High.
“We know they’re obviously ranked No. 1, but we’re really not looking at the records much,” Rebels linebacker Chadd Cosse said. “We have a pretty solid game plan. A lot of people are predicting us to lose, but we’re not really listening to that. We’re just going out to play our game.
“We’re going to go out and give it a good fight and if we eliminate the penalties and the mistakes, I think we could win this game actually.”
The fact that the Rebels (6-4), who finished second in the Prep League, are in a position to even be discussing the possibility of knocking off a top seed in the playoffs shows how far the program has come just one year removed from a 1-9 season.
“We exceeded all expectations, we have nothing to lose, so go out there and play,” third-year Flintridge Prep Coach Antonio Harrison said. “For some of these guys, this could be potentially the last football game of their career or it could be the second to last week they have depending on how they come out and play.”
The Royals (9-1) look capable of presenting multiple challenges for the Rebels, both in their balanced high-powered offense, which puts up 45 points per game, and their wall of a defense that allowed more than 14 points in a game only once this season.
The Rebels’ secondary may be put to its biggest test yet by the Royals’ passing game, led by quarterback Tyler Baty, who has passed for 2,401 yards and 35 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
Flintridge Prep hasn’t faced any passing offenses nearly as prolific this season, with their only true pass-first opponent being Chadwick, which the Rebels held to just 79 yards passing in a 54-19 win on Oct. 6.
“We’re hoping to do the same with Mission — don’t let them throw the ball,” Harrison said. “[We want] to force them to get into their run game, which is where our defense excels and take it from there. We’re really trying to emphasize to our DBs no one behind them this week. We want to take away what they do best.”
Mission Prep is no slouch at running the football either, though, as Michael Cardwell has 1,204 yards on the ground with 13 touchdowns this season, while Patrick Laird has rushed for 516 and scored eight times.
“We might have to switch around a little bit and play a couple different coverages, more than we usually do,” Cosse said. “We have to adjust, but I think we have good enough DBs and safeties and linebackers that we can make that adjustment.”
Flintridge Prep counters with a robust running game that is the backbone of its offense, powered by its own pair of 1,000-yard backs in Stefan Smith (1,355 yards) and Kurt Kozacik.
“We’ve got to be true to who we are and that’s two 1,000-yard rushers,” Harrison said. “They need the ball in their hands.”
In playing to its own strengths, the best defense might very well be a good offense for Flintridge Prep.
“We’re a running team and with Kurt and I and Kyle Hamane, we can chew up the clock a little bit if we get a drive going,” Smith said. “I think if we have some sustained drives, that will give them less opportunity to score. It will give our defense a break, which they would like, and it helps our offense because it means we’re on the field moving the ball.”
A win over Mission Prep would put Flintridge Prep in a semifinal matchup with Bishop or Salesian on Nov. 23.
“For us it doesn’t matter who we’re going to play, whether it be Mission Prep now, [No. 2 seed] Rio [Hondo Prep] later, whoever it’s going to be,” Harrison said. “We’re telling the guys Mission Prep’s good, but they can be beat and they can be beat by us. But we’ve got to be aggressive, we’ve got to be intense and we’ve got to cut back on the penalties that we kill ourselves with.
“We can’t be nervous or scared, we’ve got to play the way we know we can play.”