With a roster featuring mostly sophomores and just three returning seniors, the Mark Keppel High football team is definitely in for some growing pains this season. All the players, coaches and fans can hope for is a steep learning curve after witnessing a painful loss of near stunted growth against La Puente Bassett on Friday at Aztec Field here in Alhambra, as the Olympians defeated the Aztecs, 34-0, in the non-league season opener for both teams.
"Our youth showed up. The boys need to become men quick," Keppel coach Bobby Madrid said, speaking about the plethora of sophomores on his varsity squad, many of whom played on the freshman team last year. "I think tonight‘s game is going to open their eyes. This is nothing like playing in the afternoon game."
Aztec quarterback Tyler Takeshita finished the contest completing eight of 15 passes for 100 yards, including four interceptions. Meanwhile, running back Johnnathan Marty rushed for 54 yards on six carries and Nathan Max added 39 yards on 10 carries in the rushing attack.
The Aztecs, who allowed 404 total yards on defense, had six turnovers for the game, including a fumble by Max on the opening drive of the second half and an Alex Ramirez fumble on Keppel's first possession of the fourth quarter.
Despite the turnovers, Keppel had moments where they could have made a game of it.
During the middle portion of the second quarter and already trailing, 14-0, the Aztecs started on their own 36 and moved the ball 16 yards on eight plays, including a gutsy fourth-and-short conversion by Esquiel Ramirez. However, Keppel turned the ball over on downs after a five-yard run by Max on fourth-and-eight fell short of the first-down marker.
Trailing, 20-0, at halftime, the Aztec passing game appeared to show up in the third quarter, what with Takeshita completing four consecutive passes for a combined 80 yards to set up a first-and-goal situation midway through the opening frame of the second half.
However an offensive pass interference play in the end zone followed by a Takeshita interception at the goal line gave the Olympians the ball right back, ending Keppel's scoring threat.
Keppel had another promising drive midway through the fourth quarter following a spectacular interception off a deflected pass at the Aztec four yard line by Max, only to have a 10-play, 41-yard drive stall near midfield after Takashita failed to complete a pass on fourth-and-six.
Finally, on the final drive of the game, Keppel found itself in scoring position yet again, roughly 34 yards from the end zone with enough time on the clock to run one last play to find the end zone. Marty ran for 25 yards before being dragged down by the Bassett defense at the nine yard line just as time ran out, dashing the Aztecs' hopes of avoiding a shutout loss.
"We showed poise. I don't think they tanked it," Madrid said. "They gave us everything they have. We had opportunities. We moved the ball, it's not like they stuffed us. From now until our next game, we have to find our defense."
Ironically, Bassett coach Aubrey Duncan felt his offense needed some work despite putting up 34 points.
"I feel good when my defense puts up a zero. That's a good thing. Any time you shut any team out, I don't care what team it is, who it is, if it's a zero you did a pretty good job," Duncan said after the game. "We need to step it up a little more on offense. We had a couple fumbles that hurt us. We had a touchdown called back. Our offense was a little slow and we need to pick it up."
The Olympians finished the game with four turnovers and six penalties for 67 yards. Still, Bassett amassed 246 yards through the air and 158 yards on the ground.
Keppel, which only gained 36 total yards in the first half against Bassett, opened the 2010 season with a roster of about 19 sophomores, six juniors and three seniors.