Flintridge Prep football step into new role in league

A feel-good story has transformed into one of a football team contending for a Prep League title at Flintridge Prep this year, as the Rebels are on a three-game winning streak.

“[Morale is] extremely high, but we are making sure we keep them focused,” said Flintridge Prep Coach Antonio Harrison whose team is 2-0 in league, 4-3 overall. “I already told them they’ve done more than anyone could have expected of them after last year. Now they have nothing to lose, they just have to go out there and play.”

Prep faces an all new test Friday at 7 p.m. at Occidental College in the form of the one other undefeated league team, the league title favorites and reining CIF Southern Section Northeast Division champions in Rio Hondo Prep, which has won the league crown five years straight and is 26-1 in league over the past six years.

“We are going to have to play a mistake-free game, come out and be the aggressors and be confident,” Harrison said. “Don’t worry about the score, continue to fight and only worry about what we can control.”

The Kares (6-1, 2-0 in league) stand as the Rebels' greatest test this season. Their dominance has extended outside of league in recent years as they’ve advanced to the CIF championship in three of the past four years and won two of them (2011 and 2008).

The Rebels, whose three losses have come by an average of 3.7 points, have proven they’re not only not playing the role of pushover this year, but they can play the bully if given the reason to, as well. It started with a 54-19 victory over Chadwick and they followed it up by putting wins together for the first time since 2010 with a 46-33 win over Pasadena Poly last Friday.

“They definitely know [they’re playing for a league title],” Harrison said of his team. “It was interesting at homecoming [against Chadwick] we came out and that was the first game where I think we learned how to put a team away. Poly was the first game where it was a dogfight and we had to come out and make adjustments at halftime, and they did. They stepped out on the field and got it done. The next step is to put it all together for four whole quarters.”

Rio Hondo Prep is a run-heavy team with 242 rush to 99 pass attempts this year, but has a capable quarterback in Colby Rivera, who’s completed 51 of 94 passes for 730 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Kares’ offense runs through Nate Tayco, though. The junior running back has 711 yards and 12 touchdowns on 89 carries. He also has 11 receptions for 193 yards and two scores.

Prep’s offense has packed a considerable punch as well this season, and Stefan Smith will undoubtedly be at the center of the Kares' defensive game plan, but Kurt Kozacik is another threat in the Rebels backfield.

Kozacik had 170 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries last week, while Smith added a 56-yard touchdown run against Poly for his 15th score of the season. Prep quarterback Clayton Weirick also enjoyed a fine game, completing eight of 10 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Serra at St. Francis at 7:30 p.m. Thursday: Near falls have plagued the Golden Knights the last four weeks and things don’t seem to get any easier from one week to the next in the Mission League.

St. Francis (3-4, 0-2) will have the benefit of league home opener this week after its first two league losses were on the road at Cathedral (42-40) and Harvard-Westlake (41-36).

A year removed from a second-round appearance in the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs, the No. 10-ranked Golden Knights likely need to win their final three games to keep hope of a postseason berth alive this year.

St. Francis will first have to deal with Serra (5-2, 1-1), which edged the Knights last year, 44-30. The Cavaliers, who are No. 3 in the Western Division, are coming off a 42-3 victory over Cathedral in game in which it forced three interceptions.

Serra will have to deal with St. Francis quarterback Jared Lebowitz, who’s put together an impressive season. The senior has completed 133 of 237 passes for 1,898 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

The Cavaliers have a dual-threat quarterback in Jalen Greene, who’s passed for 1,287 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and run for 412 yards and five scores this year.

South Pasadena at La Cañada at 7 p.m. Friday: The Spartans remain in desperate need of a kick start, not only to the Rio Hondo League season, but the entire year overall. The good news is it should get a little easier this week after they opened league with two highly ranked teams in the CIF Southern Section Mid-Valley Division.

La Cañada (1-6, 0-2) fell to fifth-ranked San Marino, 42-17, to open league play at home and was overcome by No. 3 ranked Monrovia, 49-3, last Friday to push its losing streak to six games.

This week the Spartans host an unranked South Pasadena (4-3) squad that also fell to 0-2 in league with losses to the Wildcats (53-14) and Temple City in overtime last week, 42-35.

Grant Owen was La Cañada’s most productive player all the way around last week, as he had 128 total yards (56 passing, 66 rushing and six receiving) and five unassisted tackles. The Spartans also have a dangerous running back in Andy Paynter, who has 464 yards and five touchdowns on 116 carries this year.

South Pasadena has a balanced attack with running back Nathan Lee and quarterback David Madrid. Lee had four touchdowns last week and 138 total yards (98 rushing, 40 receiving), while Madrid completed 11 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a score. Hector Fernandez, who hauled in six passes for 64 yards last week, is Madrid’s most trusted target.

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