For the first time in three years, the Flintridge Prep football team is heading back to the CIF Southern Section 8-man semifinals.
The fourth-seeded Rebels took advantage of an early offensive avalanche and leaned on their defense late to defeat visiting Carpinteria Cate to win, 35-25, in Friday evening’s Division I quarterfinal.
With the victory, Prep League third-place Flintridge Prep improved to 9-2, the team’s most wins since its 12-1 CIF Southern Section championship squad in 2003.
The Rebels will also get their chance at redemption as they travel to face league titlist and No. 1 seed Los Angeles Windward (9-0), a 68-14 winner over Riverside County Education Academy in a semifinal game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Windward. The Wildcats defeated Flintridge Prep in La Cañada, 61-38, on Oct. 18.
“My team showed some resiliency tonight,” said Rebels coach Russell White, whose squad advanced to the final four in his first season in 2016. “It’s the quarterfinals. I thought it would be a little bit easier, but we faced a good team and we responded, which is what I liked.”
The Rebels and Rams (6-4) aired the ball out, combining for 72 passes in a game that last 2 hours, 46 minutes. Friday’s contest was also a rematch of a 53-42 victory for the Rebels in a nonleague game in Carpinteria on Sept 28.
Flintridge Prep quarterback Max Gitlin completed 18 of 31 passes for 257 yards and five touchdowns with one interception.
All but one of Gitlin’s completions were directed at two receivers as senior Ben Grable finished with seven receptions for 103 yards and three touchdowns and junior Zach Kim hauled in 10 passes for a game-high 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Cate quarterback Will Bouma led all passers with 258 passing and four touchdowns, while completing 21 of 41 passes with one interception by Kim.
For all the offensive fireworks, the Rebels didn’t secure victory until an incompletion from Bouma on a fourth and 10 from the Rams’ 35 with 1:13 left.
“Every single time we needed a big play the defense stepped up,” Gitlin said. “Ben Grabel, Pearce Harris, there were so many guys making plays out there.”
Cate burned all its timeouts on a previous drive and was powerless in watching Gitlin kneel twice to end the game.
The Rebels’ lone second-half score provided the game’s final touchdown when Gitlin connected on a 25-yard pass to Grable which, after a successful point-afterkick from Silas Chavez, gave the home team a 35-25 lead with 11:17 remaining.
Cate, which had scored 18 consecutive points before that, was denied by the Rebels’ defense on its final three drives, with turnovers on downs at Flintridge Prep’s 29 and 37 and at Cate’s 35 to end the game.
Flintridge Prep, which led, 28-7, at the 10-minute mark in the second quarter, appeared on its way toward a blowout victory.
Gitlin connected on touchdown passes of 48 and 38 yards to Kim and of 23 and three yards to Grable.
In between, Cate’s lone touchdown came when Bouma hooked up on a 33-yard pass to Thomas Nettesheim at the 5:58 mark in the first as the Rams pulled within 14-7.
After Grable hit Kim with a 38-yard touchdown pass to put the Rebels up by 21, Flintridge Prep’s offense went into a rut.
The Rebels went six consecutive drives without a first down, which included an interception from Cate’s Mason Oetsen.
While Flintridge Prep stalled, Cate surged with a touchdown pass from Bouma to William Deardorff for 15 yards and scoring strikes of 14 and 15 yards to Scott Holmes to pull the visitors within 28-25 with 3:39 left in the third quarter.
Cate did not tie the contest during its run thanks to a blocked extra-point attempt and two failed two-point conversions.
“To get this win feels good and it’s a bit of a relief,” Grable said. “We have another game to get ready for.”