PASADENA — A season of redemption just hit another level for the Flintridge Prep football team Saturday afternoon.
The Rebels cashed in their feel-good status for one of league contender after knocking off host and traditional Prep League heavyweight Pasadena Poly, 46-33, at Babcock Field.
With the victory, the surging Rebels (4-3 overall, 2-0 in league), winners of three straight, are one of two undefeated squads in league and face the other, reigning five-time champion Rio Hondo Prep (6-1, 2-0), next week.
Yet, the focus wasn’t on the Kares on Saturday, but on the just-vanquished Panthers (4-2, 0-1).
“Honestly, we’ve fought so hard for this and everything we’ve been through the last couple of years, this is just like the highlight of our lives right now,” said Rebels senior running back Kurt Kozacik, who rushed 19 times for 170 yards and three touchdowns, and was in obvious pain after the game.
Flintridge Prep’s first victory over Poly since 2007 came thanks to the Rebels’ run attack, which gashed Poly for 292 yards, while Prep outscored Poly, 30-13, in the second half.
Kozacik scored the game-winning touchdown on a 23-yard run, which after a failed two-point conversion attempt, gave the Rebels a 38-27 lead with 8:24 left in the fourth.
Poly countered on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Nolan Mulligan (nine for 11 for 78 yards and two scores) to Parker Matthews with 6:26 remaining that brought the Panthers within 38-33 after Poly’s own failed two-point try.
The Panthers attempted onside kick on the following kickoff was recovered by Flintridge Prep at its 46 and led to a 56-yard touchdown run from junior tailback Stefan Smith with 6:14 left that gave the Rebels a 46-33 advantage.
Poly tried a final comeback, but was thwarted on a fourth and six at midfield with 2:40 left and the Rebels ran out the clock.
“Poly had a great offense and we had trouble stopping them at first,” said Rebels senior linebacker Dylan Colliflower, who finished with eight tackles and forced a key fumble to start the third quarter that set up a Kozacik score from three yards out and put the Rebels ahead, 24-20, at the 8:56 mark. “But we made some keys plays and I had a forced fumble and the defense responded.”
Kozacik’s score was answered by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Mulligan to Michael Bowman that gave Poly its last lead, 27-24, at 2:58 in the third.
The Rebels fired back with a 35-yard touchdown strike from Clayton Weirick (eight for 10 for 127 yards and two touchdowns) to Smith.
“This is more than we could have ever asked for after last season,” said Rebels Coach Antonio Harrison, who was also appreciative of a large and raucous Prep crowd. “These boys have done a wonderful job and they’re turning this program around.”
The Rebels’ second-half response came after a late flurry from the Panthers, who scored two touchdowns within the final 30 seconds of the first half to take a 20-16 lead.
Poly’s Jake Zelek (17 carries for 110 yards) punched in a three-yard score to bring the Panthers within 16-13 after Rebels senior Chadd Cosse (eight tackles) blocked the extra point, with 29.1 seconds left.
The Rebels then fumbled on the first play of their next drive, giving Poly the ball at the opposing 37 with 24 seconds left, leading to a 37-yard touchdown pass from Curtis Toyota on a running back option toss in which Toyota found teammate Charlie Ramirez.
“I was really proud of how our kids battled back and kept on coming back and I feel that Flintridge Prep has a pretty good team this year,” Panthers Coach Brendan McGrail said. “They played well, got it going with their running game and we had problems stopping them.”
Poly’s Griffin Carter also carried nine times for 104 yards.