Culver City and Lawndale clash in the game of the year

MAN THE LINE—Culver City High School's defensive line after the Centaurs win over Santa Monica last Friday at Santa Monica. From left to right, Blake Kneebone, David Naranjo, Mason Meriweather, Issac Padilla-Rodriguez and Lucas Brand. Photo by George Laase

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Every year, teams play big regular-season games, and there are always a few in particular that everyone looks towards as meaning just a bit more. As soon as the 2018 season was over, Culver City coaches, players, and fans circled a couple of games on the 2019 schedule. Games against opponents that the Centaurs know will be true tests of the team’s ability and toughness.

Palos Verdes and Lawndale were the two teams that were circled last year. Culver City beat Palos Verdes in an overtime thriller on Sept. 20, and now Lawndale is next. The Centaurs battle the Cardinals on Friday at 7 p.m. inside the Jerry Chabola Stadium on the Culver City High School campus.

The 6-0 Centaurs are the No. 2 ranked team in CIF Division V, the 36th ranked team in the state, and they are No. 22 in the Los Angeles Times poll. Lawndale is 4-2 overall and the 44th ranked team in the state. They beat Beverly Hills 63-0 last week.

This game will have the atmosphere of a CIF championship game. Great players, outstanding coaches and enthusiastic fans will put the stamp on Friday Night Lights. “Lawndale has always been in the back of our minds,” said Culver City head coach Jahmal Wright after the Centaurs beat Santa Monica 47-7 last Friday night at Santa Monica. “We know each other well. They know us and we know them. It’s going to be a war.”

If the Centaurs expect to win the war, the defense will have to play their best game of the year. The Culver City offense is averaging over 50 points per game, but defense wins championships. If the Centaurs expect to win the Ocean League championship this year, they will have to take down the defending champions, Lawndale.

“The offense gets all the press, but the defense is doing a great job,” said Wright. “They are bringing their hard hats to work every week, and we are going to need them to really show up big against Lawndale.”

Long-time Culver City coach and current linebacker coach Cornell Myles knows the defense will have to step up if they expect to win. “We need to put our defense in a situation where Lawndale will throw the ball instead of running the ball. We need to stop the run against Lawndale. I have not seen a lot of film on Lawndale but I know they have a big offensive line and they like to run the ball. The game will probably come down to our passing attack against their running attack.”

The Culver City defense is led by senior linebacker Isaiah Williams who leads the team with 69 total tackles. Senior defensive back Enson Bravo has 53 tackles, followed by junior defensive back Ayinde Bankole with 32. Sophomore linebacker Aaron Salas has 31 tackles and junior linebacker Quinten Brunson has 28 tackles.

Other defensive players who are getting the job done are senior lineman David Naranjo with 27 tackles, senior defensive back Khary Crump has 26 tackles and junior Emari Pait, who missed two games because of injuries has 24 tackles.

The 6’2 205 pound Pait thinks the defense is ready for Lawndale. “We need to just play as a team and keep it together as a team. We need to make sure we execute and go hard in practice. To stop Lawndale we need to tackle better and rally to the ball.”

Crump, who is headed to Arizona on a football scholarship, knows the importance of this game. “Lawndale is the biggest game of the season for us. This will be the best opponent we have played so far so it should be a good game. I feel like we are ready for any competition. I feel like we can play with anybody. I am a leader on the field so I can’t make too many mistakes. This is a way of life for me. I put in extra work off the field so I expect to see results on the field.”

Defensive coordinator Tom Crump, Khary’s uncle, knows it’s going to be a hard-hitting game. “We know Lawndale and they know us. It’s going to be a lot of smash-mouth football so we have to make them one dimensional.”

Having coached at Culver City for over a decade Tom Crump is always positive and he continues to keep a smile on his face. “I am having fun coaching these players,” said Crump.  “They are a great group of kids from an integrity standpoint. They have the heart of a champion. Against Palos Verdes a few weeks ago we could have given up but we came back and that’s what I like about this team. I am excited about being able to coach these players.”

Wright, a former Culver City player, has played in and coached in a lot of big games over the years and recently Lawndale has always been at the top of the list. “The great thing about playing Lawndale is I don’t have to say that much to the team. We all know what’s on the line. They have gotten the best of us the last few years so sooner or later we have to stand up and stand our ground.”