Santa Clarita Christian football was pumped up, not deterred, entering the Division 1 eight-man football bracket.
The Cardinals drew the top-seeded Chadwick Dolphins, and ultimately fell on the road, 42-14, on Friday. However, Heritage League Coach of the Year Austin Fry and his team were never wary of the challenge of taking on the best team in the Southern Section.
“We were excited. We knew it’d be an exciting task to play the top seed in the Southern Section,” Fry said in a phone interview. “They’ve got a few very talented players, so you know your work is cut out for you. We spent a lot of time watching film because they give a lot of looks on offense and defense. It was more of a mental than physical preparation.”
SCCS started strong and answered Chadwick’s opening-drive touchdown with one of their own. Cards quarterback Cayden Rappleye hit receiver Eli Duhm for a 65-yard score to tie the game early in the first quarter.
The Rappleye-Duhm connection was on full display as Duhm finished the night with 11 catches for 149 yards.
The Cardinals mainly found success through the air as the ground game was constantly stuffed. SCCS averaged under 3 yards a carry on the night. Rappleye played well under center, completing 21 of 30 passes for 206 yards with no interceptions.
Freshman running back Mason Rappleye only took two carries in his playoff debut but shined on defense with a game-high 12 tackles and one sack. Seniors Westin Roueche and Noah Butler also each added a sack in their varsity finales.
The Dolphins kept piling in scores and put all the pressure on SCCS, who trailed 36-7 at halftime. Chadwick was led by senior quarterback Thomas Rosso, who went 18-for-22 with 187 passing yards and three TDs. Rosso found receiver Max Polin nine times for 68 yards, while the quarterback connected with senior Joshua Goodman for a pair of touchdowns.
“The looks they gave us, we were prepared for them but I just think things didn’t connect for us and we got into bad spots a lot and it just turned into a four-score game,” Fry said.
The Cardinals responded with a strong second-half effort, as the team again matched one score for another, and Rappleye scored a rushing touchdown. However, a 29-point hole was too much to overcome for the Heritage League champion Cardinals.
“We were off to a good start, then we just found ourselves fizzling out,” Fry said. “We had first downs and big gains but went down early in downs and didn’t connect super well. They drove down and they didn’t have a ton of pressure, already being up a few scores.”
The team was hoping to compete for a CIF title in Division 2 at the beginning of the season but still walked away with their heads held high.
“I think every year is successful in its own way, especially because we’re in year three of a restart,” Fry said. “Any time you have more guys on the roster, more wins and league championships, it’s success. To be able to be in the Division 1 playoffs, that’s an even greater success. As long as we can look back and say we laid down a great foundation for the next guys, that’s an accomplishment. If you can look and see that and point to it, that’s what it’s all about.”
Fry will return the majority of his team but will graduate some standout seniors. Brouche shined for SCCS in his first season of football, and finished second on the team with three sacks. He was second to only senior Noah Butler with eight. Senior Zach Ervin has been a tremendous addition to the program since its rebirth three years ago.
Senior captain Jude Patton led the team in tackles with an even 100 this season and still managed to be a solid center for the Cardinal offense.
“It’s gonna be tough for us to fill those holes and replace those guys,” Fry said of his seniors. “I’m hoping some of the guys looked up to them. I know the seniors invested in the younger guys for the future. I hope the younger guys continue to thrive after the seniors are gone.”
SCCS will be stacked with returners and potentially have numerous players from a larger upcoming eighth grade class. The Rappleyes, Duhm, a plethora of talent and Fry return to SCCS in 2024.