Cardinals fall to No. 3 Coast Union, 28-26, in rematch in Div. 2 quarterfinals
Santa Clarita Christian School football (7-4) came that close to upsetting one of the top eight-man teams in the CIF-Southern Section, but the No. 3 Coast Union Broncos (9-2) won the Division 2 quarterfinal matchup, 28-26, at home on Friday.
The Cardinals had the benefit of having head coach Austin Fry at the helm after he missed the first meeting between the two teams on Sept. 17, when the Broncos also won at home, though by a larger margin, 36-14.
“With me not being there the first time and us still kind of learning who we are, we were excited to get that chance again to play against them,” Fry said.
The Cardinals fell behind early in the first quarter on a rushing touchdown by the Broncos before Cardinals quarterback Cayden Rappleye hit wide receiver Wyatt Shields for a touchdown pass to even things up at 6-6. Rappleye then hit wide receiver Eli Duhm to give the Cardinals the lead, 13-6, on the first of three scoring connections between the two sophomores.
With roughly 10 minutes left in the second, Coast Union scored on a run play and then hit the 2-point conversion to take a 14-13 lead, but then Rappleye and Duhm connected for the second time to retake the lead. The Broncos managed to squeeze in a rushing touchdown late in the second quarter to knot things up at 20-20 at the half.
Coast Union scored on the ground again in the third quarter, and then the Broncos kept the Cardinals off the board until midway through the fourth quarter when Rappleye and Duhm got their third score of the game, but the 2-point conversion was not completed, and the Broncos were able to hold the Cardinals at bay.
Rappleye had what Fry called “his best game of the year.” The sophomore threw for four touchdowns, three of them to fellow sophomore Duhm, throwing for 223 yards on 19-of-29 passing. He also added 94 rushing yards and 21 total tackles on defense.
“He improved every single week,” Fry said of Rappleye. “And the stats didn’t always show that, but just in terms of comfortability with decision making, his pocket presence and when to stay in it, when to roll out and force a throw, when to tuck it and run – even though, yes, technically he didn’t, I felt like he played a perfect game.”
Duhm, who missed out on touchdowns in his last two games, had 12 catches for 142 yards. He finishes his sophomore campaign with 57 catches for 751 yards and 15 touchdowns. Rappleye, meanwhile, finishes his sophomore season completing more than 55% of his passes (143-of-255) for 1,633 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also paced the Cardinals on the ground, running for 609 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Those are just two of a large group of a sophomores who have helped revive the SCCS program in its second year of existence after it was previously shut down. Fry said he is “giddy for next year” having seen how much his team has improved in such a short time.
“Those guys [Rappleye and Duhm] both made such a huge leap this year, and I think we saw it coming, you know, and to see it as early as their sophomore year, to see that connection bloom is really nice,” Fry said.
Cardinals sophomore Timothy Tadler is another gem for the future. He rushed for 45 yards against Coast Union and finished his season with 325 yards and three touchdowns.
Fry credits his sophomores for stepping into a fiery situation as freshmen as the first true class of the second coming of SCCS football. With not much time to get ready for a season, the Cardinals went 0-10 in 2021 as they played what Fry called “the best teams in eight-man football in California.”
“Those sophomores that are now producing this early got to experience really high-level football,” Fry said. “And so I think that kind of just primed them to get a jumpstart on their own development and kind of see what it takes to be great.”
Fry will see three seniors leave the program – Carter Aispuro, Landon Hermanson and Joel Calhoun – with all three having left their mark in some way.
“I don’t think anyone was ready for this season to be over, and so that was a bummer,” Fry said. “But I’m proud of those guys because they were lucky to be able to reap some of the benefits of a rebuilding program. You don’t often get these kinds of results this quickly. But I never doubted their buy-in, I never doubted their ethic, I never doubted their leadership.
“Guys just look up to them because they model what I want the culture of our program to be. You may not see a lot of their names on the stat sheet but their influence is going to be a palpable loss.”
As for the rest of the team, Fry wants them to get back to the regular day-to-day of being high school students. He hopes that they move on to other sports or activities, but when the time comes next May to get ready for the 2023 season, he’s looking to get back to work.
“Go play other sports, go hang out with your friends,” Fry said. “Football is not a job; it’s something we do for fun and there’s a lot of benefit to it, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not the most important thing in the world. I want them to go experience high school and enjoy it and not feel like I demand everything from them. So, there’s enough time for us to work on things that we need to.”