Mira Costa point guard Will Householter scored 20 points against Redondo Monday night to help avenge his team’s earlier rivalry loss, and secure Mira Costa a spot in the CIF Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs.

by Paul Teetor

In the beginning, it looked like any other worn out, grimy, old hot tub that hadn’t been used – or cleaned — in years. When you live in one of those ancient, destined-for-a-teardown seaside shacks, hand-me-down “gifts” from previous tenants – old barbeque grills, bent beach chairs, cracked-up swim fins, and torn-up Tommy Bahama umbrellas – come with the property.

But this week when the temperature hit a balmy 80 degrees and All Ball went to clean out the old hot-tub in a twilight case of spring fever, something really weird happened: blue-and-gold lights started flashing in the fading sunlight and an unseen, God-like voice cried out in the silence of the patio: “Whose House?”

Stunned, All Ball looked around, saw no one else was there, and reflexively answered: “My House.”

The God-like voice quickly responded: “Whose House?”

So All Ball gave the answer that he had heard all week long: “Rams House!”

Moments later a 75-inch TV fell from the sky, hovered above the hot tub, and started broadcasting the Super Bowl between the Rams and the Bengals – even though it was not scheduled for kickoff for another three days.

All Ball can’t swear to the reliability of what he saw over the next three hours. But for those who can’t wait for Sunday’s mega-game, here is how the game unfolded in Sci-Fi Stadium.

The Rams won the coin toss and elected to kick off so they could get the ball to start the second half. That’s Rams coach Sean McVay: always thinking ahead.

After the kickoff carried through the end zone and the Bengals started on their own 25-yard line, the 70,000 plus crowd appeared split: there were almost as many Bengals jerseys as Rams jerseys scattered throughout the stands.

They all roared as defensive lineman Aaron Donald – a three-time winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award – sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow on the first play from scrimmage, and again on the second play. On the third play Burrow heaved a 60-yard pass to JaMarr Chase, his prize rookie receiver and former college teammate at LSU.

Rams defensive back Jalen Ramsey, the best defensive back in the league, flashed in front of Chase, grabbed the ball and was tackled at the Rams 25-yard line. The crowd went crazy before realizing that, really, the interception was no better than if the defense had simply forced the Bengals to punt the ball.

Regardless, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford came out to take his first Super Bowl snap, something he admitted he used to think would never happen while he played 12 frustrating years with the Detroit Lions before being traded to LA a year ago. He had just celebrated his 34th birthday and there was only one present he wanted: a Super Bowl Championship ring.

After two going-nowhere runs by Cam (Green) Akers, Stafford threw his first pass, a 12-yarder to wide receiver Van Jefferson, who bobbled the ball and dropped it for no gain. Right away it was clear that the Bengals were going to double team Stafford’s top two targets, triple-crown winner Cooper Kupp and talented-but-troubled Odell Beckham Jr. He would have to look elsewhere for an open receiver.

After gaining exactly zero yards on their first possession and facing a fourth-and-ten on their own 25-yard line, the Rams came out to punt the ball away. Punter Johnny Hekker, one of only three current Rams who were on the team before they moved to LA in 2016 – along with Aaron Donald and offensive lineman Rob Havenstein – took the snap, stepped forward to kick and suddenly pulled the ball down and threw a 20-yard strike to running back Sony Michel, who had slipped his blocking assignment. Michel snagged the football in stride and sprinted untouched up the right side of the field and kept right on going until he somersaulted into the end zone.

Bingo: It was 7-0 Rams before half the crowd had removed the N95 mask they were supposed to wear all game “except when actively eating or drinking.”

What the hell does that mean? Isn’t that exactly what going to a Super Bowl is all about – actively eating pizza, drinking beer and cheering like a high school kid who just chugged his first six pack?

So much for the much-hyped mask mandate. This time, with the whole world watching, they were actually going to crack down on anyone not “actively eating and drinking?” Yeah, right! Tell that to Magic Johnson, Gov. Newsom and Mayor Garcetti, the three Maskless Musketeers who mugged for the cameras at the NFC championship game two weeks ago.

Of course the crowd went crazy when the Rams scored so easily. No one runs a trick play on their first series of plays – especially not in a Super Bowl, and especially not deep in their own territory.

Check that: Boy Genius Sean McVay does, if he thinks it’s going to work, if he thinks the other team is not ready for such razzle-dazzle so early in the game, and if he has the right players in place to pull it off. Hekker is one of the best passing punters in the business, so why not try it?

On the Bengals next possession, Burrow stopped passing and tried a different tactic: handing the ball off to running back Joe Mixon, a stocky bruiser built just like Marshawn “Beast Mode “Lynch, the former Seattle running back whom Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll still wishes he had given the ball to instead of ordering his quarterback to throw a two-yard TD pass that was intercepted to end Super Bowl 49 seven years ago.

Mixon pounded out two first downs, but the Bengals failed to convert on a third-and-four, and had to punt the ball away. No trick plays for them, though it certainly would not have been a surprise after Hekker’s shocking pass had resulted in a TD.

Buoyed by the quick 7-0 lead he had nothing to do with, Stafford came out for his second possession looking like the elite quarterback he has been for the last month when he orchestrated playoff wins over Arizona, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco to deliver the Rams to their home field for the Super Bowl.

Kupp was still being double-teamed, but he ran such a precise wheel route – blasting off the line of scrimmage, faking a down-and-out and suddenly heading straight down the field again – that Stafford was able to hit him with a two-step advantage over his two defenders and 45 yards later Boom! Just like that it was 14-0 Rams.

Sci-Fi Stadium literally shook to its billion-dollar core. Even though the game was technically being played on a neutral site, and even though it was technically a Bengals home game due to the rotation that made this an AFC year, and even though the PA announcer was not allowed to shout the “Whose House? Rams House!” call-and-response, it spontaneously broke out in an upper-level section filled with cheap seats – in this case more than $5,000 each – until it echoed throughout the entire stadium.

Second-year quarterback Burrow, as talented as he is – more talented than Stafford, with a stronger arm, but without the seasoning that only time can give a star quarterback – completed a couple of short passes for a first down. Then the Bengals offense stalled once again, Stafford came in and threw a second touchdown to Kupp, and suddenly it was 21-0 Rams and all of Los Angeles – from Malibu to Montebello to Manhattan Beach — was starting to party down. This game was a lock, a cinch, a sure thing – and besides, the Rams had already covered the 4.5-point spread.

A lot of LA rich guys were about to get a lot richer.

The Bengals kicked a 55-yard field goal on the last play of the first half, so it was 21-3 when Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem took the field for the halftime show. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Dre’s “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” were the standouts. Unfortunately, there were no wardrobe malfunctions.

The normal 15-minute halftime extended to 45 minutes so all the million-dollar half-minute ads could be squeezed in. By the time the teams retook the field, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the game’s vibe had completely changed – on both sides of the ball. The Rams were in satisfied, play-it-safe mode and the Bengals were in desperation mode.

Stafford and company went three, and out quicker than a D-List celebrity getting kicked out of an A-List event. Then Joe Burrow showed why he is in the vanguard of the NFL’s new wave of hot young quarterbacks, along with the Chargers Justin Herbert, and the Bills’ Josh Allen.

Despite Donald and his gang-tackling gang – linebacker Von Miller, edge rusher Leonard Floyd and nose tackle Greg Gaines – sacking Burrow four times in the third quarter, the Bengals were suddenly moving up and down the field at will. Before most of the crowd had settled back in their seats Burrow had connected with Chase for a 25-yard catch-and-run TD, then hit Tee Higgins in stride for a 75-yard TD strike that shaved the Rams lead down to 21-17.

The worst part for Rams fans: Burrow had figured out how to avoid Jalen Ramsey – as great as he is, he can only cover one guy at a time — and was relentlessly picking on defensive back Eric Weddle, the 37-year-old former Ram who came out of a two-year retirement a month ago when McVay basically ran out of experienced cornerbacks, and asked Weddle to make a totally unplanned comeback. One of the smartest cornerbacks ever to play, the six-time Pro Bowler had played increasingly better and better in the wins over Arizona, Tampa Bay and San Francisco.

But now Burrow was throwing to whomever Weddle was supposed to be covering. Suddenly Weddle was looking and playing like an old guy who hadn’t played big-time NFL football in three years. The Rams best feel-good story among a whole bunch of them – Stafford escaping the exile of Detroit, Beckham changing his narrative from zero to hero, Donald getting his overdue Super Bowl ring — had turned into a colossal liability at the worst possible time. But McVay had no one else to put in so he stuck with the old man.

As the crowd tensed up remembering how badly Stafford had played during the Rams’ winless November, the absolute worst happened once again: Stafford, never nimble to begin with, broke out of the pocket, scrambled to his right, and just before being slammed to the ground, barfed up a wounded duck that was intercepted and run back for a TD.

Halfway through the fourth quarter the Bengals now had a 24-21 lead, the crowd was roaring as loud as an LA crowd can roar, and NBC announcer Al Michaels was screaming that this was the most exciting Super Bowl he had ever worked. He mentioned several times that this was his 7th Super Bowl assignment.

“Do you believe in miracles?” he bellowed into the mic. “Bengals fans sure do!”

The drama heightened when Stafford recovered his composure enough to drive the Rams close enough for Matt Gay to kick a 27-yard field goal to tie it at 27-27 with two minutes left.

Now Burrow had one last chance to win it for the underdog Bengals. He didn’t even need a TD. He just needed to get close enough to allow Evan McPherson to kick a game-winning field goal.

All Ball Sports: Hot Tub Time Machine calls Super Bowl; USC football back before it begins; Mustang, Sea Hawk playoff promises

Still, he had to drive his team at least 45 yards in less than two minutes, so he would have to pass on almost every down and work the sidelines to stop the game clock every time the ball carrier went out of bounds.

It worked six consecutive times: Chase and Higgins combined for six catches as the Bengals dragged the ball up the field to the Rams 45-yard line. Now the Bengals only needed five to ten yards to set themselves up for the game-winning field goal.

With 20 seconds left, Burrow targeted Chase on the right sideline and it looked like a sure completion – until Eric Weddle came out of nowhere, picked the ball off and sprinted all the way back down the sideline as Sci-Fi Stadium erupted. When he crossed the goal line just before the clock hit zero, the Rams buried Weddle in the world’s biggest dogpile.

Coach McVay told Al Michaels he was going to Disney Land and added: “I knew the old man would come through for us. Look it up: he’s older than I am by a full year.”

As All Ball frantically started taking notes – after all, how often do you get to see a game before it’s actually played – the 75-inch TV disappeared, the blue and gold lights went out, and a God-like voice broke the silence of the patio.

“Whose House?”

“Rams House!”

Redondo’s Easton Gray lofts a three pointer Monday night, but it wasn’t enough to stop Mira Costa from winning. Photos by Ray Vidal

Mira Costa Boys Make Playoffs, Girls Waiting to Hear

The Mira Costa boys basketball team got their revenge win over archrival Redondo Friday night. The problem was that they got the second game against the Sea Hawks only because the top seeded Mustangs suffered one of the worst losses in their history two days earlier.

Up 42-29 over Santa Monica Wednesday night with four minutes left, the Mustangs gave up a 16-0 game closing run as their home fans watched in horror while the huge lead evaporated bucket by painful bucket. The final score read: Santa Monica 45, Mira Costa 42 as the dispirited Mustang home crowd trudged out of the gym.

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the Bay League teams did not play their usual home-and-away series with each team this year. Instead, they played only one game against each team, and then they played a first-time-ever tournament to determine their final standings in the league. The tournament results take precedence over their regular season standings.

The Mustangs went into the tournament as the top seed with a 4-1 league record. Their only loss was to Redondo at Redondo. Redondo was the sixth seed with a 1-4 record.

Costa got a bye in the first round. Meanwhile, Redondo won its first-round game Monday night and lost its second-round game. That set up a battle with Costa at Costa for third place. The Mustangs won the game 59-48 after storming back from a four-point halftime deficit and holding the Sea Hawks to a mere 18 points in the second half.

“The kids really committed to playing our kind of defense in the second half,” said Coach Neal Perlmutter. “I’m proud of the way they fought back and gave it everything they had to get this crucial win. This gets us into the playoffs.”

The win ensured the team, which finished with a 17-6 record, would get an automatic spot in the CIF Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs. Perlmutter said he expects to play a first-round game on the road Friday night. If they win that game, he said, they will probably get to host a game in the second round.

Redondo, which finished fourth in the tournament and thus in the league, will now have to wait until Tuesday to learn if they get an at-large bid for the playoffs.

Will Householter, the crafty point guard Costa relies on to run its offense, and guard the other team’s best perimeter player, led the Mustangs with 20 points and five assists. Nick Lundy contributed 12 points and Trey Pearce chipped in with 7 points off the bench.

Bradley Bennett led Redondo (13-11) with 13 points. He also contributed two assists and two steals. Six-foot-six center Cole Stokes added 11 points, three assists, four blocks and one rim-rattling dunk.

Meanwhile the Mustang girls had an even tougher week: in the space of three days they suffered two close tournament losses by a combined total of 3 points.

Wednesday night they lost to Peninsula, a team they beat by 17 points a week ago, by a score of 55-54. Then they lost to Redondo in the third-place game 39-37 when the Sea Hawks broke a 37-37 tie with nine seconds left.

The fourth-place finish in the tournament means that the Mustang girls will have to wait until Tuesday to learn if they earned a playoff spot or not.

“Both losses were heartbreakers,” Coach John Lapham said. “Now, even with a final record of 18-6, we may not get in the playoffs.”

Regardless of whether they make the playoffs or not, Lapham said it is a season he will always remember if only because of the four seniors – Winslow Smith, Cara Susilo, Bella Blum and Hannah Gedion — who gave all they had to make the season a success.

“After that Redondo loss I told them how proud I was of how hard they worked all year,” Lapham said. “But I had to tell them I don’t know if they will have a chance to put the Costa uniform on again.”

Winslow Smith’s three pointer wasn’t enough to stop Redondo from winning Monday night, and advancing to the playoffs.

USC Football: Here Comes Caleb

The great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said all battles are won or lost before they are ever fought.

Next fall, when USC is dominating the PAC-12 football wars, and pulling out close victory after close victory – and pulverizing UCLA — Trojan fans should remember that piece of ancient wisdom.

They should thank their lucky stars that new coach Lincoln Riley has imported his star quarterback from Oklahoma just two months after he shocked the college football world by signing on to revive USC’s once elite football program – and committed to making it elite once again.

A lot of battles had already been won in advance of Tuesday afternoon when Caleb Williams announced he is transferring to USC. Williams was the single best player available in the NCAA transfer portal this off-season and now he will be calling signals for the Trojans. Vegas, where you can place a bet on practically anything to do with sports, already has him in the top three, odds-on picks for the Heisman Trophy.

Consider the sophomore transfer’s incredible record. This is not some high school hot-shot who may or may not be able to translate his skills to the next level. This guy has the potential to be a worthy successor to Carson Palmer and Manhattan Beach’s own Matt Leinart — both Heisman winners – as well as USC’s second tier of great quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and Sam Darnold.

Williams came to Oklahoma last fall as a 5-star recruit, but was slated to be the backup to the pre-season Heisman favorite, a guy with the wonderful quarterback’s name of Spencer Rattler. You can just imagine the fun the local sports writers had with puns on his name.

But something went wrong with the snake thrower, and during Oklahoma’s annual Red River rivalry game with Texas the Sooners fell behind by 21 points. Riley, ever the pragmatist, yanked Rattler and inserted his highly-hyped-but-untested freshman.

The result: an epic comeback victory that catapulted Williams into the Sooners’ starting job. From there he went on to complete 65 percent of his passes for nearly 2,000 yards, 21 touchdowns, and only four interceptions.

As a bonus, he’s so fast and shifty that he also rushed 79 times for 442 yards, and an additional six touchdowns.

He’s so good that already USC’s two incumbent quarterbacks who split the job last season – Kedon Slovis and heir-apparent Jaxson Dart – have left for greener pastures where they will have a chance of claiming the starting QB slot. Slovis decamped to Pittsburgh and Dart recently enrolled at Ole Miss.

There’s a good reason why Williams waited two months before following his coach to LA: he wanted to see if Riley had the juice to attract other high-end transfers who could make his job easier.

Riley delivered, big-time. In just two months he signed as transfers Mario Williams, who was his top receiver at Oklahoma, Colorado wide receiver Brenden Rice, Stanford running back Austin Jones, and Oregon running back Travis Dye – all proven collegiate stars.

But Williams is the true superstar who ensures that a lot of the battles USC will fight next fall have already been won.

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com . Follow: @paulteetor.ER

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