Malibu football falls short in season opener

Malibu’s Dylan Miller gets thrust into the air after scoring on a three-yard touchdown reception. Dick Dornan / TMT

It was a tale of two halves Saturday night as Malibu fell 20-12 in its season opener Saturday to Saint Monica at Santa Monica College. Malibu fell behind early, then mounted a furious comeback in the second half before ultimately coming up short.

Malibu went into halftime facing a deficit after the host Mariners scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal. But despite trailing 17-0 at halftime, Malibu roared back in the second stanza behind the passing of quarterback Chase Gardella. The junior transfer from Oaks Christian played with a competitive spirit that fueled the Sharks when things looked bleak after an anemic first half.

After completing just three of 11 passes for 26 yards in the first half, Gardella connected on 12 passes including touchdowns of 93 and three yards to bring MHS within striking distance. Gardella threw for 223 of his 249 yards in the second half as the Sharks showed grit and toughness.

“We have a lot of pride,” Gardella said. “We have a great bond and we wanted to keep fighting.”

Saint Monica jumped out to the early lead behind the powerful running of Kevin Holubowski. The six-foot, 220-pound running back plowed his way time and time again through the Sharks defense for a game-high 265 yards rushing on 38 carries.

Holubowski’s 49-yard touchdown run straight up the middle to paydirt gave the Mariners a 10-0 lead with 38 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

With all MHS eyes set on stopping Holubowski, a beautiful play-action fake to the rugged back drew Malibu defenders and left a wide-open Zach Llorens to receive a 16-yard touchdown pass from Saint Monica quarterback Luke Cain to make it 17-0 with 1:15 left in the first half.

Malibu’s offense struggled early, mustering only 49 yards in the first half. The Sharks’ running attack netted a meager 23 yards on 12 carries in the first 24 minutes of the game. “We came in at halftime and were upset with the way we were playing,” Gardella said. “We knew we were still in the game. We stepped it up and played our hearts out.”

On the opening possession of the second half, the Mariners picked up where they left off and promptly drove the ball down the field with relative ease. Holubowski’s 39-yard run gave Saint Monica a first down at the Malibu 26-yard line. With Saint Monica threatening to blow the game wide open, MHS cornerback Dylan Miller intercepted an errant pass at the Sharks seven-yard line.

Miller’s interception brought the loudest cheer of the evening from the Malibu faithful. It only got louder on the very next play. Gardella rolled to his left and lofted a perfectly thrown 30-yard pass into the hands of receiver Apollo Loomis, who sprinted down the Saint Monica sideline untouched for a 93-yard touchdown reception. Suddenly there was life and belief on the Sharks sideline. A missed extra point cut the lead to 17-6.

The third quarter ended with Loomis thwarting another Mariners score by intercepting a pass deep in Malibu territory.

Holubowski continued his torrid running in the fourth quarter with runs of 15 and 21 yards that brought the ball to the Malibu one-yard line. The Sharks defense tightened and forced a four-yard loss and two incomplete passes to yield only a 22-yard field goal with 7:18 left in the game. Saint Monica led 20-6.

Gardella went immediately to work, driving the Malibu offense down the field with precision passing. Following a 12-yard pass to Miller and a nine-yard pass to Brennan Cassone that gave the Sharks a first down on the Mariners 20-yard line, Gardella scrambled to his right and broke free down to the three-yard line. On the very next play, Gardella fired a bullet of a pass to Miller that cut the Mariners lead to 20-12 with 1:41 left in the contest. The subsequent two-point conversion failed.

“I thought he really stepped up,” Malibu Coach Ray Humphrey said of Gardella. “He made some things happen. I was really proud of what he did out there.”

Malibu then attempted an onside kick but to no avail. After the game, a group of disappointed Shark players listened to Humphrey as he praised the second half effort.

“We had two good goal line stands on defense and we moved the ball a lot better on offense. If we play like that in the first half, it’s a different game,” Humphrey said. “We have work to do. We are still trying to find who we are. But I was very happy of the way we battled back and never gave up.”

Gardella finished 15 of 34 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Loomis caught four passes for 124 yards while Cassone hauled in seven catches for 97 yards.

The Sharks host Chadwick on Friday in their home opener at 3:30 p.m.