Reposted with permission from

Nov 25 2023 11:37:33

Thanks to Susan Coulter for the photos & Harry Joe for the stats/game info:


By Brian Reed-Baiotto, Sports Editor

It’s not hyperbole to say that Rio Hondo Prep needed to do almost everything right to beat Santa Monica in the championship game of the CIF-SS Division 9 playoffs.

The Vikings were playing on their home field, and in front of a large and adoring crowd.

They also had a significant size advantage up front, and their roster nearly doubles that of RHP.

But that little school in Arcadia left Santa Monica with a 29-27 victory.

It’s the program’s first CIF-SS title since 2012, and it’s the highest championship in their 11-man history.

RHP clinched Division 13 titles in 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2012.

It would be difficult to comprehend that any of the previous four championships came with such late-game drama.’

With the game tied at 21-21, and with under two minutes to play, Nate Curtis looked to enter the south end zone to give RHP a 28-21 lead.

Just before Curtis got to the goal line, however, he slid on his butt to stop just shy.

At first, some couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

Eventually, though, they realized that Curtis and the Kares wanted to eat some game clock before scoring.

With 1:09 to play, Noah Penunuri punched it in from two yards out, and content with a seven-point lead, RHP lined up for the extra-point attempt.

Santa Monica jumped offside, and with the ball being moved to the 1-yard line, Rio Hondo Prep coach Mark Carson directed his offense to go back on the field.

The exact scenario played itself out in the second quarter, and the Kares went for two, and came up short.

This time, Penunuri glided into the end zone and Rio Hondo Prep took a 29-21 advantage.

To their credit, Santa Monica drove 80 yards, and on the last play of regulation, Wyatt Brown found Charles Cravings in the back of the north end zone on an 11-yard TD pass.

Instead of being able to kick the extra-point and sending the game into overtime, the Vikings were forced to go for two after Carson’s decision paid off just over a minute prior.

The left-handed SMHS quarterback looked to his right and fired, but Nathaniel Shine batted the ball down with his right hand and a celebration ensued.

The Kares put together and executed a cerebral game plan.

They played with intelligence and discipline, and because of that, RHP is the 2023 CIF Southern Section Division 9 champions.

There wasn’t just one defining moment in Friday’s win.

One of the game’s most consequential plays, however, came on a fourth-and-short scenario facing the Kares.

They trailed 14-13 with 11:03 to play in the game.

Instead of running the ball as they almost always do, Alex Mustain dropped back and hit Joshua Taflinger on a 17-yard TD pass.

Penunuri would score the two-point conversion, and RHP took its first lead of the game, at 21-14.

Four minutes and one second later, the Vikings got even.

Caden McCallum scored on a 3-yard run with 7:02 to play, and the game was tied at 21-21.

Before Penunuri scored with 1:09 to play, Rio Hondo Prep was able to bleed nearly six minutes off the game clock.

Santa Monica had a 413-292 advantage in total offense, but RHP totaled 261 yards rushing, as compared to 187 for the Vikings.

Penunuri led all running backs with 178 yards on 29 carries and two scores.

Nate Curtis, whose 3-yard TD in the first quarter got the Kares even at 7-7, carried the ball eight times for 66 yards.

And while Penunuri and Curtis deserve a lot of credit, none of it could have happened without their offensive line.

Ivan Tkach, Colby Johnson, Zach Burl, Matthew Brewer, Elijah Gavia and Joshua Taflinger did a masterful job in opening holes all night for the Kares running backs.

Brown completed 14-of-24 for 226 yards for Santa Monica.

As mentioned, Brown tossed that dramatic TD with no time remaining on the scoreboard, but earlier in the game, Rainn Pollock picked one of his passes to thwart a Vikings drive.

Caden McCallum rushed for 148 yards on 24 carries to pace the SMHS ground game.

If the efforts by Penunuri and Curtis weren’t big enough on the offensive side of the ball, they had seven tackles apiece on defense.

Taflinger had six tackles, Andy Xu finished with five tackles, while Caeden Holcomb, Tyler Dang and Colby Johnson provided four apiece.

Up next: The Kares will find out soon who they face in the CIF State playoffs.

To view a photo gallery by Susan Coulter, click on the Facebook link here: Facebook

Just below the scoring plays are some video clips of game action, and interviews with RHP players and Coach Carson.

Box Score:
RHP: 7-6-0-16-(29)
SM: 7-7-0-13-(27)

SM: Caden McCallum 2 run (Osbaldo Rivera kick)
RHP: Nate Curtis 3 run (Alex Mustain kick)
SM: Griffin Seals 16 pass from Wyatt Brown (Osbaldo Rivera kick)
RHP: Noah Penunuri 9 run (run failed)
RHP: Joshua Taflinger 17 pass from Alex Mustain (Noah Penunuri run)
SM: Caden McCallum 3 run (Osbaldo Rivera kick)
RHP: Noah Penunuri 2 run (Noah Penunuri run)
SM: Charles Cravings 11 pass from Wyatt Brown (pass failed)

Records: Rio Hondo Prep (13-1); Santa Monica (9-5)

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