Spartans’ Memorable Rally Brings End to Season

First published in the Nov. 4 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

The words came forth from the mouth of La Cañada head football coach Dave Avramovich, as if he was reciting a mantra.
“I can’t believe we won that game,” Avramovich said.
He was walking away from San Marino High School’s Titan Stadium toward La Cañada’s boisterous bus following last Friday night’s thrilling, season-ending, topsy-turvy 46-43 Spartan victory.
“I can’t believe we won that game,” Avramovich said again, his words not seeking inspiration as much as they seemed to be searching for answers.
After having worked in San Marino for 11 years, Avramovich was able to comfortably negotiate the terrain as he greeted well-wishers, many of whom had just a few minutes earlier been supporting Avramovich’s opponent.
Avramovich certainly had a lot of experience at SMHS serving on the staff of head coach Mike Hobbie during what many consider the heyday of San Marino football.
But last Friday, Avramovich’s Spartans pulled off a stunning win, driving 90 yards in 90 seconds to score the winning touchdown in La Cañada’s three-point victory.
LCHS concluded the season in fourth place in the Rio Hondo League with a 2-3 record (6-4 overall). Despite a winning overall record, the Spartans’ playoff drought continues – they haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2014. Their last playoff victory is a 40-6 win over Baldwin Park Sierra Vista on Nov. 18, 2005.
Meanwhile, the Titans concluded the season in fifth place with a 1-4 league record (3-6 overall).
Both LCHS and San Marino entered last Friday’s contest devoid of playoff hopes but you never would have known it. La Cañada surged to a 19-0 lead on the strength of a diversified offense and solid play from sophomore quarterback Macky Plocher.
Senior Brandon Shepherd put the Spartans in position for their first score of the game when he rambled 20 yards deep into San Marino territory. Two plays later, junior Corey Cheung crossed the goal line from a yard out for the Spartans’ first touchdown of the night. Shepherd’s successful two-point conversion made the score 8-0.
It stayed that way into the second quarter when senior Shaina Corfeine’s 25-yard field goal increased the lead to 11-0. The Spartans drove the field on their following possession, which was capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass on fourth down from Plocher to senior Caleb Carruthers. Senior Cole Stratton added a two-point conversion for a 19-0 La Cañada advantage.
The Titans finally got on the board courtesy of a 10-yard pass from senior quarterback Niko Mavridis to sophomore wide receiver Coleman Morning. Mavridis connected with senior Michael Prappas for a two-point conversion, which trimmed La Cañada’s lead to 19-8 at the half.
Another SMHS touchdown shrunk La Cañada’s lead to 19-16 but on the ensuing possession, Plocher hooked up with senior Jack Stroben for a 9-yard score, with Cheung’s conversion making it 27-16 in favor of the Spartans.
The new score lasted for exactly two plays before Mavridis connected with senior Andrew Hornberger for a 47-yard scoring pass. The duo hooked up again on the two-point conversion, trimming the Spartans’ lead to 27-24.
The horse race pace of the contest continued and the Spartans wasted little time retuning to San Marino’s end zone. Cheung scored on a 1-yard run, but the Titans blocked the conversion attempt.
The Titans’ next scoring drive took just three plays and ended when Mavridis found Morning for a 26-yard touchdown connection and the Titans were within 33-30 entering the fourth quarter.
Cheung then embarked on a 40-yard run to put the Spartans ahead 39-30, but again San Marino found an answer. Mavridis and Hornberger connected from eight yards out and San Marino was within 39-36.
The Spartans fumbled on their next drive, giving San Marino the ball on La Cañada’s 41-yard line. Six plays later, the Titans reprised the famous (or infamous, depending on whom you were pulling for in the iconic 2005 USC–Notre Dame game) “Bush Push,” as Prappas basically lifted Mavridis off his feet and into the end zone to provide San Marino with its first lead of the night. San Marino freshman Toby Pedroza kicked the extra point for a 43-39 advantage.
The temporary surge in momentum appeared that it might become permanent when La Cañada fumbled the ensuing kick. But the Titans had to punt, giving the ball back to La Cañada at its own 11-yard line with 2:06 left in the fourth quarter. The Titans appeared poised to complete the comeback as the Spartans faced fourth down and 25 following an intentional grounding call.
But Plocher connected with Stroben – a senior returning to football following a hiatus from the sport – for a drive-preserving 31-yard completion. Cheung capped a stellar night with an 18-yard run that took the ball to San Marino’s one-yard line. He plunged into the end zone on the next play and Corfeine converted the extra point to give the Spartans a 46-43 lead with just 27 seconds remaining on the clock.
In desperation mode on the final play of the game, Mavridis connected with Yoshitake on a short screen pass, which set off a series of laterals. Reminiscent of another famous (or infamous, depending on whom you were cheering for in the fabled 1982 Stanford–Cal game), the Titans at one point seemed destined for a similar miracle as Hollomand raced down the right sideline with open space ahead. But there was no marching band on the field to help rescue the Titans as Hollomand’s forward progress was eventually stopped at the Spartans’ 20-yard line, bringing the play, game and season to an end for both squads.
Avramovich lauded both Plocher and Stroben for their roles in executing the game-saving play.
“I told Macky to just give us a chance,” Avramovich said. “Throw it past the first down marker and let the kid go up and make a play. Macky gave us a chance and Jack made the play. Macky is a smart kid. He knew where we had to go and Jack made an outstanding play to go get the ball.”
Plocher ended the night completing 20 of 30 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Stroben led La Cañada’s capable receiving corps with five catches for 92 yards and a touchdown while Carruthers made nine catches for 90 yards and a score.
Cheung played “the game of his life,” in Avramovich’s estimation, rushing 25 times for 184 yards, four touchdowns and two-point conversion. He also caught three of Plocher’s passes for an additional 26 yards.
Shepherd gained 36 yards on six carries, caught a pass for 6 yards and led the Spartans defense with 10 tackles.
Others making substantial tackles were Stratton and Cheung (five apiece), Andrew Gevorgian and Mateo Gallegos (four apiece), and Matthew Fan and Carruthers, who recorded three stops apiece.
There was plenty of praise to go around, starting with Stroben.
“This was his best game,” Avramovich said. “He made two huge plays and, of course, the fourth down play. This will make huge memories for him, knowing that he made it possible for us to win this game.”
Plocher also displayed substantial poise under pressure.
“This was Macky’s best game for us,” Avramovich said. “He threw the ball downfield very well.”
Carruthers played “a great game,” in the coach’s estimation, and Cheung was “explosive.”
“Corey played a super game,” Avramovich said.
Stratton and Jamie Warner were also mentioned for their contributions.
A former lineman himself, Avramovich extended a pat on the back to La Cañada’s men in the trenches: Diego Reyes, Jake Adkins, Max Russakow, Brandon Goldsby, Max Mora and Josh Tso, who was pressed into action and “didn’t miss a beat.”
“That was our best pass protection and run-blocking of the season,” Avramovich said. “It showed in the points.
“It was a tremendous high school football game, a tremendous rivalry game,” the coach said. “I am just glad we got out of there with the win.”

IT’S A WRAP
“It was a good year,” said Avramovich. I am hesitant to say it was a great year because we didn’t go to the playoffs and we should be a program that is in the playoffs with consistency. That being said, I am super proud of our seniors. They showed excellent leadership and buy-in. I am really thankful to these kids and their parents coming alongside them to support this program. I am really excited to have a full off-season.”
Avramovich was hired as head coach for his second stint at La Cañada on June 23 after returning to the squad in 2019 as defensive coordinator.
Previously, Avramovich served on the Spartans’ staff from 2004-06 before leaving for San Marino, where he coached from 2007–17. Though he stays in touch with many friends and associates from San Marino, Avramovich seemed genuinely and positively affected by the return to his old stomping grounds.
“It was great to see so many friendly faces,” he said.
But now, it’s back to business.
“I am looking forward to and hoping that things get back to normal,” Avramovich said. “I am excited about what we can do here.”
Then, just for fun: “I still can’t believe we won that game,” Avramovich said with a chuckle.