By Austin Green
It was an offensive explosion to behold: 14 points were scored in the game’s first 28 seconds; the two offenses combined for over 700 total yards.
However, the La Salle College Prep football team had its Rose Bowl debut spoiled by Studio City Harvard-Westlake as the Lancers’ comeback against their Del Rey League rival fell short in 58-40 shootout on April 9.
Harvard-Westlake (5-0 overall, 3-0 in league) virtually assures itself at least a share of the league title with the win. La Salle dropped to 2-2 overall (2-1 in league) with the loss.
Wolverines receiver Jason Thompson scored on five of his team’s eight touchdowns, including two on kick returns, as La Salle struggled on special teams in the first half. The Lancers committed three fumbles, including two on kick returns, helping Harvard-Westlake jump out to a 30-7 lead.
“We’ve got to improve on everything. It’s a mindset and mentality that special teams matters,” La Salle head coach Ben Buys said. “It’s not that [our players] don’t think that it matters; it’s just that in an abbreviated season like this, with kids playing multiple sports and not as much time, that’s one thing that unfortunately probably doesn’t get as much time as it could. That’s not an excuse; we’ve got to be better.”
La Salle quarterback Richard Munoz bounced back from a rough start to finish with 22 passes on 32 attempts for 283 yards and four touchdowns. He also scored a rushing touchdown. Harvard-Westlake quarterback Marshall Howe went 10 for 20 with 217 yards and three touchdowns of his own, and also had 60 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
La Salle running back Rashaad Austin had 16 carries for 74 yards.
Marcus Powe and Dave Mysza led the way for the Lancers’ receiving corps. Powe had six receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns while Mysza had seven receptions for 49 yards. Matthew Gamble had one catch for two yards, Isaac Mora had three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown, Giovanni Buttery had three catches for 83 yards, Jake Young had one catch for four yards, and Todd Rodriquez had one catch for 14 yards and a touchdown.
Despite a much better second half for the Lancers’ offense, the 23-point deficit proved too much to overcome.
“It comes down to alignment and assignment and big plays. When they have three touchdown passes with no one within five yards of the guy, that’s alignment-assignment. That’s on us,” Buys said. “I’m hoping [our defense] continues to realize and understand that that’s why practice is important… The big plays are gonna kill you and the big plays happen from not being aligned right.”
Thompson took the opening kickoff 85 yards for his first score of the night, giving Harvard-Westlake a 7-0 lead that stood for exactly 16 seconds until La Salle’s Angelo Godoy returned the favor on the ensuing kickoff, taking that one 94 yards to the end zone.
From there, however, Harvard-Westlake mostly controlled the first half. Wolverines quarterback Marshall Howe connected on a 40-yard touchdown to Thompson to finish the next possession and immediately got the ball back when La Salle fumbled the kickoff return deep in its own territory. The Wolverines promptly capitalized for six more points on a one-yard run from Wang.
The Lancers got a score from their offense late in the second quarter on a five-yard scramble from Munoz. It would prove a sign of things to come after halftime.
“It’s hard to remember that he’s still a sophomore,” Buys said of his quarterback. “He’s playing in the largest stadium he’s ever played in for a share of the league title… I knew he’d get through it. But a lot of it has to do with the guys around him getting through it too, together.”
On the first drive of the third quarter, Munoz marched the Lancers down the field on a 12-play scoring drive that finished with a three-yard touchdown pass to Powe. But Harvard-Westlake immediately returned the favor thanks to Wang’s second score of the game.
Munoz connected with Powe in the end zone again on the following drive, this time for a 28-yard score, but the Wolverines again had an answer, this time on a screen pass that Thompson took 60 yards for another touchdown.
When La Salle scored early in the fourth quarter to trim Harvard-Westlake’s lead to 44-34, Buys decided to attempt an onside kick, which the Lancers’ Matthew Gamble recovered at the Wolverines’ 32-yard line. However, Harvard-Westlake finally got a defensive stop on the ensuing drive, and Thompson returned La Salle’s punt 87 yards to the end zone to effectively seal the win for the visitors.
“Big plays and special teams,” Buys said afterwards, shaking his head. “If they don’t have big plays and special teams, they don’t score.”
Still, Buys is encouraged by how his team fought throughout the game despite being down early, refusing to let it turn into a blowout even as Harvard-Westlake threatened to pull away.
“I think looking forward, that’s a great marker of what our program’s gonna be,” he said. “We’re going to be a fourth quarter team that’s never gonna go away, never gonna stop working, never gonna stop believing.”
La Salle demonstrated that fight the following week by bouncing back with a 31-7 victory over visiting Long Beach St. Anthony.