The frustration flowed. The scene was still surreal.
The Palos Verdes football team gathered after seeing its season come to an unceremonious end with a harrowing 7-0 loss to Loyola in Nov. 8's CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoff opener at South Torrance High.
The contest culminated with a heated exchange following the final whistle.
“It’s frustrating and it (stinks), but we’re going to feel this together. We need each other. We need to be there for each other,” Palos Verdes coach Guy Gardner told his team after working hard to separate them from Loyola players.
The heartbreak was fresh as nine-time defending Bay League champion Palos Verdes (8-3) suffered a first-round playoff exit for the second time in three seasons, while Mission League-tested Loyola (4-6) advanced to a home game against Villa Park in the second round.
But then the Sea Kings experienced a moment.
Each player shook hands and embraced his teammates. Their coaches imparted words of encouragement and solace to each player. The team honored its departing seniors and tried to remember a dominant season in which it yielded just 16 points in Bay League play, one year after reaching the CIF final.
Ultimately, the Sea Kings came together one last time.
“That’s what happens when you have a nice group of seniors and they have the realization that they are done playing high school football,” Gardner said. “It brings out a lot of emotions.”
Emotions ran rampant for Palos Verdes throughout an intense game.
Palos Verdes opened the game with a commanding 15-play drive that ate up 8 minutes and 45 seconds. Palos Verdes thought it scored on a fourth-down play when quarterback Jake Jellison hit Kevin Rahman on a quick slant over the middle, but the officials ruled Rahman was stopped a half-yard short of the end zone.
“I felt like I was in. I felt I had the ball across the line. But they didn’t call it,” Rahman said.
Palos Verdes’ defense came up clutch by forcing a three-and-out stop on the next series, but then the emotions hit Palos Verdes at the worst time.
A sideline official warned the PV coaching staff to get behind the sideline. An assistant coach chirped back, “Call the touchdown,” drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty and giving Loyola a first down.
That penalty loomed large.
It allowed Loyola to retain possession and turn it into a 20-play, 99-yard drive that chewed up 10 minutes and 56 seconds, capped by a 2-yard scoring run by Harrison Allen at the 4:41 mark of the second quarter for the decisive score.
“I don’t know if it was warranted,” Gardner said of the penalty. “It’s a tough call in that situation. If it is being called, it has got to be ‘pretty bad,’ and I don’t think that rose to a level of ‘pretty bad.’ That was worthy of a conversation, not a flag.”
Both teams continued to put together long, time-consuming drives as Loyola moved the ball behind Tahj Owens (139 rushing yards, 16 carries) and Palos Verdes tried to rally behind Jellison (8 of 17, 90 yards) and Ryan Wilson (30 receiving yards, 18 rushing yards).
Palos Verdes drove to the Loyola 35 in its only possession of the third quarter, but was thwarted when Loyola’s Joshua Long pounced on a fumble.
Palos Verdes had a reprieve when Jake Wilson recovered a Loyola fumble in the red zone with 9:59 left in the game, but the Sea Kings stalled on three drives to end the game.
“It was a weird game; there were not a lot of opportunities for either team,” Gardner said. “The pressure mounted toward the end, but I am so proud of the effort.”
Rahman said Palos Verdes had a special group.
“This team has been through everything,” Rahman said. “We lost in the first round two years ago, and we picked it up and made the CIF final last year.“We love each other, and everyone has each other’s backs. We fell short tonight and were a bit unlucky, but I love these guys.”