Peninsula student section cheers on the Panthers in the CIF-SS Div 11 football semi-finals at South High in Torrance on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

Dave Young knew when he took the job as the Peninsula High football coach, the culture not only surrounding the program needed to change, but the way those within the program saw it.

"The culture was there, we just had to reinvent it," said Young, who took over at Peninsula before the 2016 season. "Peninsula football was strong, but it just disappeared and broke down."

Losing season after losing season took its toll on the Panthers program, and it didn't help that its rival, Palos Verdes, had won CIF Southern Section titles in 2012 and 2014.

PV's most recent title appearance (2015) also coincided with Peninsula administration shutting the program down.

Three years later, Peninsula (9-4) is vying for its first CIF Southern Section title. The Panthers travel to Anaheim to face Western High Friday night, with the Division 11 crown on the line.

"It helps having been here before and knowing how to handle the situation," said Young, who coached at PV before coming to Peninsula. "You know you can't control everything, but you have to remain calm, because your team is going to feed off you. It's about getting your team to play and not getting them nervous, because they're prone to make mistakes."

Peninsula didn't let nerves get in the way last Friday night. The Panthers used a 21-point second quarter to race away with a 28-7 victory.

"With them not being in the playoffs before, not really knowing the magnitude of it being a 'win-or-go-home' situation, they've been oblivious to the emotional impact," Young said. "At the same time, they've risen to the occasion each week."

Against Hemet, it was a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns by Luke Seymour and Sebastian Huizar, and a 22-yard TD connection between quarterback Jack Haworth and John Skoblar.

"We're having guys stepping up when they get their number called," Young said. "We have a few guys who, when we call their number, they step up. It emphasizes our ability to play better."

Running back Ethan Han picked up 173 yards and added a TD on 21 carries, while Mason O'Connor added 96 yards on 12 carries.

The night, however, belonged to the Panthers defense.

"We put a lot more focus into our defensive preparation (leading up to last Friday's game)," Young said. "It's been a lot more intense, a lot more film and a lot more board work making sure we align right. Getting into the right spot is huge, as we saw Friday. It's nice to see the effort come out in the game."

Before the season began, Young sent an email to the students interested in joining the football program. In the email, he talked about how the hard work needed to begin in the spring.

"I told the guys that if we were going to get to a championship, the work begins in March if you want to reap the benefits in November," Young said. "We went back to that email periodically, and the team knew if we were serious about playing 14 weeks, we had to commit to the offseason more than ever."

Game No. 14 is Friday night, and this year's squad has an opportunity to do something that hasn't been done since 1997: win a CIF-SS title.

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