Top seed stops Flintridge Prep football's turnaround season

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — A footnote in program history for all the wrong reasons last season, the Flintridge Prep football team ended the 2012 season with a much nobler distinction.

With last week’s win over Ribet Academy, the Rebels became the first team since the school’s 2003 CIF-champion squad to advance past the first round of the postseason and, one season removed from a one-win campaign, not even a 49-14 loss to top-seeded Mission Prep in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Northeast Division playoffs at La Cañada High could deflate the Rebels’ pride.

“They’ve done something that no team at Flintridge Prep has done in 10 years,” third-year Rebels Coach Antonio Harrison said of his team, which finished 6-5 after placing second in the Prep League. “I told them when they come back in 10 years and Flintridge Prep tradition is strong where it used to be, it will be because of this team this year.”

The Royals (9-1) entered the game averaging 45 points while giving up more than 14 only once — in a 73-26 win. They dropped a 47-14 beatdown on Prep League-champion Rio Hondo Prep, which beat Flintridge Prep, 48-12. With a 1,000 yard rusher and a quarterback on the threshold of 2,500 yards passing, Mission Prep represented the most high-powered offense the Rebels had faced all year.

“We put it all out there,” said Rebels running back Stefan Smith, who rushed for 121 yards in 17 carries with two touchdowns and added a pair of interceptions on defense. “We knew it was our last game if we didn’t come out and execute perfectly, but I’m proud of these guys. I’m going to miss playing with them.”

Flintridge Prep went right after the Royals on their first drive to open the game, with quarterback Clayton Weirick hitting Kareem Ismail with a pass over the middle for 26 yards on the first play from scrimmage. The Rebels would push inside the Royals’ 40-yard line on their first two possessions, but fail to convert on fourth-and-long situations on both.

In between, Mission Prep scored its first touchdown in typically quick fashion on a four-play drive of 60 yards, all of which came on runs from tailback Patrick Laird, who finished with 175 yards in 11 carries, all but 15 of which came in the first half.

Mission Prep’s second drive was interrupted by Smith’s interception of Tyler Baty (nine for 18 for 160 yards and three touchdowns) at the Rebels’ 28-yard line with 3:10 left in the first quarter, but Flintridge Prep couldn’t convert any momentum from the turnover, as a three-and-out gave the ball right back. Mission Prep then made it 14-0 on another four-play drive, this time of 50 yards, capped by a 12-yard pass from Baty to a wide-open Joey Hall.

“I think we needed to get some early scores to make the boys believe that they could be in this game,” Harrison said. “Things didn’t go our way and we didn’t convert on the things we needed to with those fourth downs, but again that’s credit to Mission Prep’s defense. They did a great job stopping some of the stuff we do well.”

Flintridge Prep’s strength, the run game, was largely negated by Mission Prep in the first half, as the Rebels were held to just 66 yards in 22 carries and were forced to throw 14 times for 57 yards. Conversely, Mission Prep, went to the air just 11 times in the first half, and didn’t have much success (76 yards), whereas the Royals had great success pounding the ball behind Laird and had rolled up 201 yards rushing by halftime.

“We were prepared for the run and the pass,” Harrison said. “Mission Prep’s a good team, they came out and played hard and they beat us. Our boys played their hearts out.”

Smith cut the Royals’ lead to 21-6 with a three-yard run at the 3:45 mark of the second quarter, capping a drive that started with his 19-yard kickoff return and saw him record 26 total yards. But following his scoring run, Smith’s next carry didn’t come until the 1:56 mark of the third, on the Rebels’ third possession of the second half after the first two gained three total yards. By that point, Flintridge Prep was facing a 49-6 deficit.

Smith notched his second interception of the game just before the end of the third quarter and the Rebels scored their second touchdown at the 10:25 mark of the fourth on a 35-yard run by Smith. Weirick rushed for the two-point conversion.

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