OJAI — For a victory a longtime coming, extending past two heartbreaking defeats this season into the previous year's string of losses marred by forfeits, perhaps it was a little surprising there was no raucous, over-the-top celebration.
Perhaps it was because of the sweltering conditions.
Or maybe it was that the Flintridge Prep football team knew the outcome long before halftime came.
Then again, it might very well have been the sentiments stressed by Flintridge Prep Coach Antonio Harrison, reminding his Rebels that what they had been through was exactly what host Villanova Prep was currently forging through.
"All respect goes to Villanova Prep for coming out here to play," said Harrison of a Villanova Prep squad that suited up 20 players after forfeiting a game a week earlier. "We were in that same situation last year. That's what I told the team, have class out there, we were right where they were."
Nonetheless, there were still plenty of ear-to-ear grins for the Rebels and their faithful, as Flintridge Prep got the performance and the result it needed most with a resounding 48-8 nonleague win over Villanova Prep on a very hot early Saturday afternoon in Ojai.
"It feels great," said running back Stefan Smith, who had 108 yards on just four carries with two first-quarter touchdowns that propelled the Rebels to a 36-0 halftime lead that put the game away early. "It feels great because we've been working for so long."
Like Smith, Chad Cosse also had two touchdowns, with a scoring catch and an interception return for a touchdown, while Kurt Kozacik added a rushing score and had 73 yards on the ground in 10 carries.
"It was just a great overall win," said Cosse, who also keyed a commanding defensive performance that saw two defensive scores and limited Villanova Prep (0-4) to just 51 total yards.
The victory puts Flintridge Prep at 1-2 after nailbiting losses to Army-Navy, 32-30, and Heritage Christian, 19-16, in previous weeks in which the Rebels led in both games. It also ended a losing streak of 11 games — including two by forfeit last season — for the Rebels dating back to a victory over Bellarmine-Jefferson last year in the first week of the season.
"I'm completely happy with these boys," Harrison said. "They knew they had to come out of here with a victory to get our season going.
"It is a good feeling to get a win."
For the first four plays from scrimmage, though, it appeared tides were far from turning for the Rebels. A Flintridge Prep three-and-out was followed by a 34-yard pass-and-catch for the Wildcats. But three plays later, Eric Fung intercepted a pass and returned it 34 yards to the Villanova 43 for the Rebels and the momentum never left them again.
"I think Fong's interception was the key to turn us around and flipped the switch," Harrison said.
On the next play, Smith took a sweep 30 yards and Kozacik followed with a 12-yard run that set up a Smith one-yard touchdown carry with 7:45 to play in the opening quarter. The ensuing conversion failed, but the Rebels got the ball right back after a three-and-out and Smith broke loose off left tackle and went 65 yards to pay dirt. A subsequent Mike Lii conversion run put the score at 14-0 with 4:47 to play and the Rebels were off to the races, cautious not to let a victory slip from their grasp as they had in their previous two losses.
"We realized that the other games we let slip away," Cosse said. "Once we got the interception by Eric and those two touchdowns by Stefan, we said we're not letting this one slip away.
"Even with our low numbers, all this hard work finally paid off. After a couple close losses, being able to get up from the beginning and not let up is really big."
Flintridge suited up 26 players Saturday, certainly not a large number, but it owned a size advantage with its roster and physically. It added up to everyone getting plenty of playing time, including roughly a half-dozen junior varsity call-ups.
Kozacik scored from four yards out on a run with 11:26 to play in the first half before Cosse delivered a highlight reel score, taking a pass from quarterback Clayton Weirick in the near flat and shedding four would-be tacklers, including the last at the four-yard line who he almost effortlessly brushed away en route to the 30-yard scoring catch. It was one of two Weirick attempts on the day, with the other headed for a score before it was dropped.
Cosse's touchdown and subsequent point-after put the score at 28-0 with 7:58 to go and a safety made it 30-0 with 6:09 left. The safety came on an errant Wildcats snap that hit the crossbar.
A Kyle Hamane five-yard touchdown run with 3:27 left in the half brought the score to 36-0, brought on a running clock and concluded a first-half run in which the Rebels scored on five straight drives after punting on their first. In all, the Rebels totaled 291 yards of offense, with 261 coming on the ground and 234 coming in the first half.
In the second, both Rebels' touchdowns came on defense, as Cosse returned an interception for six and Thomas Turchan recovered a fumble in the end zone after an Eric Kang sack forced the turnover. Turchan and Kyle Law also teamed up on a blocked point-after-touchdown attempt. In all, the Rebels' defense forced four turnovers, with Derek Okuno also notching an interception. It also tallied five sacks, with Tucker Chemel totaling two. And of the 51 total yards of offense allowed, 42 came in the second half — in which Villanova Prep scored on its last drive — and the Wildcats were still held to negative 26 yards rushing for the game.
In the end, after all the pitfalls and recent tribulations when the Rebels had been so close to victory they could taste it, they finally got to savor it.
"We needed to come away with a victory and get the taste in their mouth," said Harrison, whose team has its home opener Friday night at Occidental College against Malibu. "The key is to carry it over to next week."