Santa Clarita Christian Cardinals football held the Milken Community Wildcats offense in check thanks to four interceptions in Thursday night’s win at Birmingham High School.
The Cardinals won the Heritage League opener, 33-19, escaping a second-half near-comeback in which the Wildcats scored the majority of their points.
SCCS (3-1) had a strong first half, outscoring Milken, 27-6, despite numerous injuries to the Cardinal backfield.
Jonathan Boelter, the team’s top running back, went down with an injury in the first quarter. Sophomore Chase Kalinski entered the game and ran the ball well before also exiting the game injured.
Both backs had just a few touches but were each at about 8 yards per carry. Dual-threat quarterback Cayden Rappleye was forced to run a little more than normal but made some big plays for SCCS. Rappleye finished the game with 214 total yards and one touchdown.
The Cardinals looked to be in cruise control en route to a lopsided win but, with all the injuries, head coach Austin Fry was just looking to get out with the win.
“I think there was a lot of character we showed battling through the disappointment of injuries,” Fry said in a phone interview. “Milken came out and played tough. There was not a moment where just because we had a lead, we were safe. They didn’t change their intensity at all. It was a physical and competitive game. We never looked past them.”
Freshman Mason Rappleye answered when called upon to take on the team’s running back role. The quarterback’s younger brother isn’t a natural running back but stepped up when his team called upon him in the second half.
“He’s not really a running back, but Mason Rappleye stepped in and did great,” Fry said. “There’s jitters there, he’s a freshman, but he’s super smart and physical. I didn’t feel any lack of confidence in him.”
The Wildcats came out of halftime with some momentum, scoring early in the third quarter. However, Cardinals junior Wyatt Waldron made the play of the day with a pick-six to re-spark his team. Waldron’s second interception of the day was SCCS’ only score of the second half but was just enough to keep Milken at an arm’s length.
Wyatt Shields and Cayden also added an interception for SCCS.
Fry believed his team was up against a solid team with a few star athletes, who, if let loose, can do damage on the football field.
“We dialed up the pressure more to force more 50/50 balls and incompletions in the second half,” Fry said. “It worked out for us most of the time but they have a couple guys that make big plays. All they had to do was make a big play two out of 10 times to hurt us.”
The freshman Rappleye was one of several underclassmen who have stepped up for SCCS this season and found valuable playing time on the field.
“That was another really encouraging thing,” Fry said. “I could throw guys in that were ready for those moments. They weren’t perfect but there was no lack of confidence. They were engaged in what we were doing. They’ve practiced enough where they were ready for that moment.”
SCCS showed enough poise to secure the victory and keep the Wildcats out of striking distance. It may not have been the prettiest of finishes but Fry was proud of his young defense that came up with some clutch plays to close out the game.
“We were a little shaky at times with some penalties and dropped passes but we had a couple of big moments where we made big plays,” Fry said. “There was shakiness but we shook it off, then made some pretty big character (plays) that helped us seal the game.”
The Cardinals are now back in the win column after a lopsided loss last week as Milken picks up another loss coming off its first win of the season.
SCCS will look to keep up the momentum in Heritage League play and take on a tough Coast Union Broncos team (0-2).
Coast Union beat the Cards twice last season, so Fry is excited to see his players have a little extra fire going into next week’s matchup.
SCCS hosts the Broncos on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 5:30 p.m. at Valencia High School.