MALIBU — In a season in which nothing had gone right leading into the fourth week of play, the Flintridge Prep football team certainly dealt with its share of pitfalls and miscues on Friday afternoon.
But the Rebels rallied past each and every setback with Eric Kazangian scoring the game-winning touchdown with 7:38 left in the game and the defense — keyed by an Adam Grosbard sack and an Alex Bates interception — holding off host Malibu in the end, as Flintridge Prep posted its first victory of the season, 23-20, at Malibu High.
“I guess the cure for 0-3 was coming to the beach,” smiled Rebels Coach Perry Skaggs, whose team improved to 1-3 with the win over the Sharks (1-3).
It certainly wasn’t the proverbial day at the beach for the Rebels, though, as they overcame some scary special teams coverage and two fumbles lost, both by Kazangian.
The junior running back certainly redeemed himself, however, barreling in from two yards out for the game-winner.
“It’s enormous,” said Kazangian, who had a game-high 115 yards rushing in 20 carries, of the victory. “This completely changed the way we’re gonna look at our season.”
Kazangian busted loose for a 10-yard gain to the Malibu 4-yard line late in the first quarter before fumbling for the first time, but the ball found its way into the end zone and Rebels receiver Jared Norsworthy found his way to the ball, recovering possession for the score and a 7-6 lead.
In the fourth quarter, however, Kazangian and the Rebels weren’t as fortunate.
With a chance to at least tie the game at 20, Kazangian burst through the line on a third-and-one play and rumbled nine yards before fumbling at the 1. Malibu recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
“I was so disappointed with that fumble,” Kazangian said. “Our team picked me up.”
Indeed it did, as the momentum from that point on early in the fourth quarter never swayed back to Malibu.
On the heels of a disastrous 47-0 loss to Campbell Hall last week and having scored just 19 combined points in the previous two games, a solid offensive start was pivotal. But perhaps doubtful. Hence why Skaggs wanted to defer, but his team lost the opening flip and was forced to receive.
“We wanted to play defense first,” said Skaggs, whose team played without starting tailback Jordan Whaley once again and without running back Jacob Steenwyk, as well. “It turned out we had to get the ball and the guys responded.”
Gaining 30 yards on its first drive might have been a somewhat modest accomplishment, but the act of moving the chains and gaining positive yardage, much less momentum, was key.
“This whole season, our offense has been dead,” Kazangian said. “That drive set the tone for us.”
However, Malibu took the ensuing punt back for a score, as Justin Saul navigated 85 yards for a touchdown.
Malibu’s next score in the second quarter came after a 69-yard kickoff return to the Prep 15.
But Malibu had its share of special teams problems, as well.
Saul’s touchdown was followed by a missed point-after-attempt and Kazangian’s game-winner came off a drive set up by a safety when the Sharks snapped the ball through the end zone to make it 20-16. In the end, the two Sharks special teams miscues equated to their three-point margin of defeat.
Saul’s punt return also served as a preamble to showcase the Rebels’ fortitude on the day. The Rebels responded with an ensuing drive that ended in Norsworthy’s score.
Malibu came back to go ahead 13-7, but Prep answered before the half. In a drive that encompassed 70 yards, Kory Hamane gained 40 yards in two carries, converting two first downs, including a 23-yard run to the 1 on a fourth-and-10 play.
Chris Wirthlin scored on the next play from a yard out to give the Rebels a 14-13 intermission lead.
It ended a first half in which the Rebels ran 33 plays for 159 yards, controlling the clock and limiting the Sharks to 13 plays and 39 yards.
“The one thing we asked them to do today was come out and be physical,” Skaggs said. “They did just that.”
While the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-sand approach worked against Malibu, it also worked for it on the first drive of the second half. The Sharks grinded out 45 yards in 11 plays, all runs, for a 20-14 lead.
But, oddly enough, after they recovered a fumble on the Rebels’ ensuing possession, Malibu ran the ball just twice more the rest of the half, instead passing nine times and completing just two.
In the end, Prep’s stingy defense — the Connor Dubin-led squad had two takeaways and allowed only 105 total yards — and ball control running got it into the win column.
“You go back to basics when you’re 0-3,” said Skaggs, whose team moves into its bye-week before opening Prep League play. “This young team’s learning by leaps and bounds.
“I think they took a turn today.”
GRANT GORDON is the sports editor. He can be reached at (818) 637-3225 or email@example.com.