LOS ANGELES — With all it's been able to accomplish in just one year, Flintridge Prep football Coach Antonio Harrison's goal was to get his team to believe it could pull off an upset victory over Rio Hondo Prep and put itself in the driver's seat for a Prep League title Friday night.
An early touchdown and successfully recovered onside kick on the ensuing play definitely multiplied whatever faith the Rebels had in themselves, but the Kares showed why they're ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Northeast Division, as they shrugged off a few early bumps in the road en route to a 48-12 league victory at Occidental College.
“Rio is a tough, disciplined, hard-nose football team,” said Harrison, whose team turned the ball over three times (two interceptions and a fumble) to a Kares defense that logged five sacks and two other tackles for a loss in the game. “They just beat us tonight, there's not much more to say than that.”
Flintridge Prep will need to win its final regular season, league game at Webb Saturday, which is set to kick off at 1 p.m., to keep a chance at a top-two finish in league alive as Pasadena Poly (4-2, 0-1) was still set to play three league games coming into this week.
Prep (4-4, 2-1 in league) showed Rio Hondo (7-1, 3-0) why it came into the game undefeated in league when it answered a Kares touchdown on their opening drive with a seven-play, 63-yard touchdown drive capped off by an eight-yard Stefan Smith run with 6:27 to go in the first quarter to the game at 6.
“I told the guys before the game, after the first [Rio Hondo Prep] touchdown, 'Your coaches believe in you, love you,” Harrison said, “but you guys have to believe in yourselves, until that comes we're not going to be as good as we can be.'“
Smith, who accounted for both of the Rebels’ touchdowns with the final one coming on a 20-yard run with 3:48 to go in the game after the Kares earned a running clock for the entire fourth quarter, said Prep didn't doubt itself coming into the game, but was simply overcome by turnovers and ultimately every aspect.
“I think we believed,” said Smith, who finished with a team-high 96 yards on 16 carries and saw fellow running back Kurt Kozacik finish with 76 yards on 14 carries. “I think we felt we could come in here and give them a game, but things piled up, but we're pretty resilient, we'll be back.”
The Rebels had a golden opportunity to take a lead when Chadd Cosse, who also blocked an extra point kick after the Kares first touchdown, kicked and recovered a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff that bounced off a Kares player, which gave Prep possession at Rio Hondo Prep's 39-yard line.
Prep could only get five yards on four plays on the drive, as a fumble on fourth and five returned the ball to Rio Hondo Prep, which is the reining Northeast Division champion, at its own 34.
Eight plays later, the Kares had retaken the lead on designed four-yard quarterback run from Colby Rivera, who accounted for the first touchdown of the game with a 16-yard pass to Robby Hanna, with 1:32 left in the first quarter.
Nate Tayco, who finished with a game-high 118 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, gave Rio Hondo Prep a 20-6 lead with 8:51 left in the half after Prep was held to a three-and-out when he coasted into the end zone untouched on a five-yard run off a toss to the left.
The Rebels looked to cut it to a one-score deficit to end the half, as they embarked on a nine-play drive – the longest of the night to that point – but saw momentum quickly change hands when the Kares’ Kevin Horton intercepted a pass, which gave Rio Hondo the ball 48 yards from another score.
Rivera, who was 14 of 17 for 178 yards and three scores, padded his team's lead six plays later when he hit his favorite target, Jake Holguin (seven receptions, 76 yards and two touchdowns) with an eight-yard touchdown pass with 2:06 left in the half.
“We fumbled, we threw interceptions, we couldn't stop them on defense and couldn't move the ball against them,” Smith said. “The game was there, but you can't win when you turn the ball over that many times.”
The Kares earned the running clock with two touchdowns in the third quarter, as Tayco added a one-yard touchdown run and Rivera threw his second touchdown of the night to Holguin about two and eight minutes into the frame, respectively.
Jimmy Key capped the scoring for Rio Hondo Prep when he bulldozed his way into the end zone for a 12-yard score.
“We've got some work to do, the good news is it isn't the end of the season,” Harrison said. “We still have a chance to turn it around and see where we can go from here, but this a tough lesson learned for the boys when it's a big game we've got to come to play. Rio's not going to let up, and no disrespect to any other teams in our league but Rio is Rio. They're not Poly, they're not Chadwick.”