The San Marino High School varsity football team is used to playing bigger, more athletic players, and head coach Mike Hobbie knew his team was going to need much more than effort and heart against North Torrance in a CIF Southern Section Division 9 quarterfinal last Friday.
“You have to play very well when you’re playing good athletes,” he said. “You can’t just play. You got to play well.”
The Titans certainly showed grit late in the fourth quarter but lacked execution with missed tackles and blown assignments, allowing the Saxons to drive down the field and score a game-winning touchdown with 7 seconds remaining for a thrilling 33-28 victory.
On the ensuing possession, San Marino snapped the football with 5 seconds remaining in the game but the ball sailed past quarterback Connor Short, ending the contest and the Titans’ season.
“Too many mistakes,” Hobbie said of his team’s performance. “I could never get this team right. It’s my fault. I let them down because I couldn’t affect enough change and get them to be discipline enough.”
The Titans (9-2-1 overall record) struggled to put points on the board but managed to string together several good plays late in the fourth for a 60-yard scoring drive to recapture the lead.
Beau Hobbie ran for a 2-yard touchdown and then barreled into the end zone for the 2-point conversion, giving his squad a 28-27 lead with 2:07 remaining.
North (10-2 overall) began its final offensive drive on its own 25-yard line and managed only 4 yards in the first three plays, making it fourth down and 6 yards to go. The Saxons caught a break as the Titans were penalized with an offside call, moving the ball up 5 yards.
Stephen Bradford kept North alive with a 1-yard run and a first down. The play only inspired the home squad, which marched down the field and capped the 75-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run from Bradford. The Saxons’ two-point attempt failed but led 33-28 with only 7 seconds remaining in the game.
“We knew we had enough time,” said North head coach Todd Croce. “We didn’t have to just throw the ball. We just took what they were going to give us. [Victor] Puelles had a great run at the end. Our big guy punched it in for the touchdown.”
Puelles, the Saxons quarterback, was held in check by the Titans, mainly Jacob Leftwich. The senior defensive back intercepted two of Puelles’s passes in the end zone.
However, the North senior came through in the final drive with a big 22-yard pass to Beau Maglinti and a 29-yard scramble that set up the game-winning run from Bradford, who finished with 332 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries.
“We made too many errors,” Hobbie said. “I knew [Bradford] was going to be extremely tough for us to tackle and he was. They have some good athletes. You have to play very well when you’re playing good athletes. You can’t just play. You have to play well.”
The Titans got off to a hot start with an impressive display of blocking and running. Hobbie, who finished with 106 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, scored his first touchdown from 30 yards out, giving San Marino a 7-0 advantage with 9:15 remaining in the first quarter.
The home squad responded a minute later with a score from Bradford, and both teams were at a stalemate until the 7:35 mark of the second quarter when Short, who was starting in place of injured starting quarterback Kade Wentz, connected with Wheeler Smith on a quick slant in the middle of the field. Smith raced past two defenders and scored an 80-yard touchdown.
Smith led all receivers with four catches for 124 yards and a score, and Sean Richardson hauled in six passes for 72 yards. Short completed 13 of 22 passes for 234 passes and two touchdowns.
“The receivers did a good job,” Hobbie said. “They didn’t let us have the perimeter game the way we wanted it. We had some success on the inside so we took that. Again, we should have put more points on the board than we did. It was usually mistakes that cost us. It wasn’t really much that they did. They stayed in the same defense pretty much all game without many changes. It was exactly what we practiced against. It was about execution.”
Hobbie will lose nearly half of his team to graduation this year. The 23 seniors included Steven Barraza, Joseph Brunner, Nathan Cheung, Charles Daves, Mason Dawes, Malia Evans, Carson Giles, Keaton Heimerl, Beau Hobbie, Myles Keys, Nigel Landon, Ethan Lainez, Jacob Leftwich, Darren Li, Tommy Long, Daniel Manolescu, Beau Perez, Sean Richardson, Wheeler Smith, Jackson Wendling, Kade Wentz, Chris Wicke and Kevin Yang.
“I would love for them to have gone out with a CIF championship, that’s for sure,” Hobbie said of his senior group. “That was our aim all along, my aim. I knew this team had a lot of potential. We could be pretty successful. I thought we’d be in this situation, but I knew I had my hands full with the execution end of things, trying to drive home about being disciplined and assignment sound and doing your job. I knew I’d probably get good effort out of them.”