The San Marino High School varsity football team endured a pandemic-shortened season this past spring, saw coach Justin Mesa resign following the final game, endured a protracted hiring process to find his replacement, refashioned the program using mostly underclassmen and endured a quarterback drama only to…turn the football over to host Norwalk last Friday night on the very first play of the season.
But if things are consistent with this group of unique young players and coaches, what doesn’t kill them only makes them stronger. This was proven a little more than two hours after that game-opening gaffe when San Marino had put the finishing touches on a season-opening 34-22 non-league victory over the Lancers, opening the Ray Torres era with a come-from-behind win and setting off an enthusiastic celebration by the visitors.
“I thought it was awesome,” exclaimed Torres, that first-year head coach, making no effort to filter his enthusiasm. “We played really well. I don’t want to say I was surprised, but we definitely had a couple kids step up and play big. I was excited and it was great to get that first win of the season in the first game of the season.”
When asked if he was pleased by the team’s effort that seemed to increase in intensity as the game wore on, Torres said “100%.”
“I told them prior to the game that mistakes are going to happen,” Torres continued. “Mistakes will happen even in Week 10, but not making the effort is unforgivable at any point of the season. Regardless of what you are doing, the effort has to be there every play. We can learn the assignments. I wanted them to know that with the numbers we have on our roster, we have to play hard and we have to depend on everybody. And they did.”
Norwalk capitalized on that season-opening miscue to claim a 6-0 advantage when David Herrera rambled into the end zone for the first of his two touchdowns.
But the Titans wasted little time getting the equalizer when senior quarterback Niko Mavridis hooked up with classmate Michael Prappas for a 77-yard catch-and-carry that tied it up at 6-6. A stiff-arm delivered by Prappas near midfield that sprung him to paydirt provided the social media moment of the night and proved to the Titans that they could compete with the hosts.
Norwalk employed its double-wing, double tight end offense to temporarily confuse San Marino’s young defenders and carry a 22-14 lead into the half.
But whatever happened in the halftime huddle, Torres & Co. might want to bottle and sell because the Titans locked down the Lancers for the final 24 minutes. San Marino scored 20 unanswered points and were on the verge of more of getting more when the game ended, setting off the jamboree and deflating a sellout crowd in Norwalk’s newly renovated stadium.
Mavridis ended up completing a thrifty 13 of 16 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns. Prappas caught three scoring passes with Andrew Hornberger snagging the other. Senior Jayden Hollomand caught two for a total of 51 yards, including a 46-yard reception that many are still shaking their heads over due to its level of difficulty.
Sophomores Ryan Park and Coleman Morning and junior Ryan Singhal also worked themselves into the rotation with catches. Singhal paced Titan ballcarriers with eight carries for 83 yards and the workhorse running back also found the end zone for a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Prappas scored the other.
“Mike Prappas played very, very well,” Torres said afterward. “He set the tone right away with that big catch-and-run and was the difference-maker tonight. Offensively he was huge and defensively he was stout. It’s hard to not mention the names of everybody who played because it was a true team effort. The energy we had was incredible.”
Torres reserved special mention for the offensive line — comprised of Timothy Irie, Mitch Mooney Joseph Wong, Owen Grannis and Brandon Gill — who kept Mavridis clean while committing few penalties for a season-opener.
“I have to take my hat off to Mitch Mooney for starting a game as a freshman,” Torres added. “He knew his assignments and there was absolutely no liability. That is a lot to say for a freshman starting in the first game of the season. But as far as the line was concerned, everyone was consistent. We didn’t give up any sacks or interceptions.”
Hollomand, a basketball player by trade, continues to turn heads on the gridiron in his first season. To be more accurate, his first month.
“I wasn’t nervous, but I must admit I was a little hesitant because he is brand new to the program and the sport,” said Torres. “He just picked it up. He was big for us and also had that huge catch.”
Others earning positive comments were Mavridis, the pass-catching triumvirate of Singhal, Hornberger and Morning, and sophomore Mikey Yessaian, who played both ways. Defensively, San Marino also received solid efforts from Park, Ryan Qu, Ryder Yoshitake, Clement Truong and Jayan Anvekar.
Clem came in the game in the second half and played really well,” Torres said. “And Jayan had a huge quarterback sack as well and had a nice game.”
Torres commented on the several sophomores who contributed to the effort.
“Not only are they playing significant minutes, but they are starters,” Torres stated. “Many of them had never played football before and then their freshman year was even cut short. How much they have improved is awesome. It was really, really a big team win for us. Everybody contributed and everybody had a role. That is what I try to relay to them at practice. You don’t always need to do anything special, just do your assignment.”
Photos courtesy Raymond Quan