CULVER CITY — The Palos Verdes football team was looking for a 10th consecutive Bay League title heading into Friday’s showdown with Culver City.
PV led by nine at the half, but only scored one time in the second half as Culver City roared back thanks to another outstanding performance by senior quarterback Zevi Eckhaus as the Centaurs rallied to a 42-28 win.
It was just the third Bay League loss for the Sea Kings (3-2, 3-1) dating back to the 2010 season.
But it wasn’t their first setback against the Centaurs. Last year, in a nonleague meeting, Culver City pulled off a 55-52 win over PV.
This time around, the Sea Kings entered the game without starting quarterback Turner Helton, who was injured last week. Sophomore Charlie Beuerlein had the task of leading Palos Verdes into battle Friday.
With Palos Verdes leading 28-18 midway through the third quarter thanks to two touchdown runs by senior Michael Nagy (105 rushing yards on 16 carries), Eckhaus and Emari Pait started the comeback for the Centaurs.
Culver City (4-0, 4-0) went on an 82-yard, 12-play drive that was capped by a 1-yard sneak by Eckhaus to cut its deficit to two points with 4:38 remaining in the quarter.
“Our defense played very well in the first half as we were well prepared for their base offense,” Nagy said. “They had to dig deep into their playbook and pull out a lot of plays we hadn’t seen before, which helped them come back in the second half.”
Eckhaus completed 25 of 40 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns, and he also had one rushing touchdown.
After the two teams traded possessions, the Centaurs got the ball on their own 24-yard line. Senior running back Ayinde Bankole delivered runs of 22 and 15 yards to the Palos Verdes 42.
Eckhaus then threw a perfect strike to Pait, who outjumped a Sea Kings defender and caught the pass for a 42-yard touchdown that gave the Centaurs their first lead of the game with 8:41 to play.
“It was great to be able to play one more time with my boys this season and win a league title,” said Eckhaus, who will play next year at Bryant University. “I can’t take all the credit. We have great receivers and a great game plan tonight and we executed it. It was awesome.”
Nagy and senior Dominic Ciolino helped start the Sea Kings on what they hoped would be a winning touchdown drive. They gained a combined 48 yards to give PV a first down at the Culver City 24 with just over three minutes remaining.
A bad snap over Beuerlein’s head resulted in the Sea Kings losing 25 yards. Then on third down with 2:47 remaining, Beuerlein’s pass was intercepted by Pait, who returned it 95 yards for the touchdown to seal the victory for the Centaurs.
“We didn’t have a very good first half, but we had a talk at halftime and we stepped it up on both sides of the ball and made it happen,” said Pait, who had 217 yards receiving and two touchdowns in addition to his interception. “The last play I knew it was a passing down because it was third-and-long. I saw the ball in the air and just broke on it and got great blocking by my teammates to help me get into the end zone.”
Despite the loss ending the Sea Kings’ reign as the top team in the Bay League, coach Guy Gardner said he was still happy with his team’s performance.
“I’m really proud of this group of young men,” he said. “They fought hard until the end. It was tough losing Turner for this game, but Charlie did a great job for us, and unfortunately we put him in some tough situations in the end of the game. But he is going to be a really good player in the future.”