Looking to advance to its first championship game since rejoining eight-man competition in 2016, the Flintridge Prep football team understood it had a tough task ahead.
Not to mention a familiar foe standing in its way in Prep League rival Windward.
Fourth-seeded Flintridge Prep took on top-seeded Windward on Saturday in a CIF Southern Section Division I semifinal contest and Windward showcased its strengths, which included some astute fourth-down play calling.
Flintridge Prep yielded three fourth-down touchdowns passes, including one that ended the first half, en route to a 47-17 road defeat on the road.
Flintridge Prep (9-3) couldn’t recover and saw Windward (10-0) run an efficient offense throughout.
“Three touchdowns on fourth down; it happens,” said Flinttridge Prep coach Russell White, whose team finished third in league behind Windward and Chadwick before posting postseason victories against PAL Charter Academy and Cate. “Their quarterback made some great throws and their receivers made some big catches. Windward played a great game and we knew they’d be a tough team to play against.
“We had a great season and I’m very happy for our guys. It stings right now losing, but they’ll look back and know we did a lot of great things. We’ll go from there.”
Windward, which will meet visiting Thacher in the championship game, led throughout and held Flintridge Prep at bay in a game that featured a running clock early in the fourth quarter. Windward will look to win its first eight-man title since 2011 after winning a crown in 2010.
Flintridge Prep, which last won a CIF Southern Section Division III 11-man crown in 2003, looked to win its first eight-man title since 1989. Instead, the Rebels were limited to 182 yards of offense and their bid to advance faded.
Windward opened the scoring on a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jasper Stratton (seven of 16 for 126 yards and five touchdowns) to an uncovered Quinn Kreller on fourth down with 6:18 remaining in the first quarter.
The Wildcats extended the lead to 14-0 on a 17-yard touchdown pass on fourth down from Stratton to Ian Baron (three total touchdowns) with 9:41 left in the second quarter.
Flintridge Prep bounced back on the ensuing kickoff, as Zach Kim returned the ball 72 yards for a touchdown to bring the Rebels to within 14-7 with 9:27 to go in the first half.
“I knew we needed to do something and I got some great blocks and was able to score,” said Kim, who finished with five catches for 51 yards. “It felt good to score there, but we came up short.”
Windward made it 21-7 on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Stratton to Brett Webster with 6:40 remaining in the second quarter.
A 38-yard field goal by Silas Chavez brought the Rebels to within 21-10 with 17 seconds to go in the first half before Windward struck again.
Stratton launched a 36-yard touchdown pass to Webster on fourth down as time expired to make it 28-10.
“That touchdown was hard to swallow,” White said. “It hurt us a bit.”
Things didn’t begin well for Flintridge Prep in the second half, as Baron recovered a fumble on the Flintridge Prep 10-yard line after a botched snap on the first play from scrimmage in the stanza.
Aidan Gerst caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Stratton to give the Wildcats a 34-10 lead in the first minute of the third quarter.
Baron intercepted a Max Gitlin pass at the Flintridge Prep 30-yard line before scoring on a 35-yard run to extend the lead to 41-10 with 52 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Baron scored in the opening minute of the fourth quarter on a 12-yard run to make it 47-10. He finished with 82 yards rushing in 13 carries.
Flintridge Prep closed out the scoring with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Gitlin to Ben Grable with 1:34 to go.
Gitlin completed 15 of 33 passes for 140 yards. Grable caught six passes for 52 yards.
“We know Flintridge Prep and we knew what we needed to do [to win],” said Windward coach Hasan Muhammad, whose team posted a 61-38 league road win against Flintridge Prep on Oct. 18. “We were able to convert on those fourth-down plays and we put the ball where it needed to be.
“We were also able to capitalize on the turnovers and go from there. We like where we are right now.”