On a chilly Friday night in Los Angeles, the stars came out to shine.
Led by senior running back/linebacker Malcolm Smith, Taft looked set to wear down Crenshaw in a replay of the city section championship of a year ago. Unfortunately for Taft, Smith only shined for a quarter before going down with an ankle injury.
That set the stage for Raymond Carter to cast Taft into the shadows.
Despite numerous injuries on both the Taft and Crenshaw sides, a number of players showed why they are being heavily recruited by division one schools. In a rematch of the city championship game, Crenshaw defended their title and home turf with a 26-7 win.
Taft struck first by the running of Smith early and often. Taft ran the ball right at the heart of the Crenshaw defense by pounding Smith play after play on the first drive. Smith found paydirt from three yards out to give Taft a 7-0 lead.
Smith would not see much more action, though, as he injured his ankle on the second drive. He did not return for the rest of the game. The extent of the injury is still unknown.
Smith's absence put even more pressure on Taft junior quarterback Exavier Johnson. With Taft's go-to-player out, Johnson couldn't seem to find a rhythm all game. Johnson, who also played safety, was intercepted once and never truly found his comfort level.
Johnson received good protection on the night from his offensive line. For the most part, Darrion Weems and junior Craig Noble gave Johnson enough time to throw. Both of them looked physically impressive, and Weems had a few tough matchups with Brian Price when Price lined up at defensive end.
Price picked up where he left off last year. He wasn't able to record amazing stats due to all of the double teams he received and Taft game planning around him, but he still made his presence felt. When Taft had the ball inside Crenshaw's one-yard line on fourth down in the 4th quarter. Price came up with the pressure to stop Johnson on a quarterback sneak.
Carter didn't break runs any long runs the way he did the last time he played against Taft, but he still had a great night. He likely had over 200 total yards due to a few long returns. Carter also looked smooth as a receiver on the night. He had a 15 yard touchdown catch and a 20 yard reception where he juked his way downfield.
Although they didn't come into the game with the headlines of Price and Carter, Crenshaw's pair of junior receivers made quite a name for themselves on Saturday.
Kemonte Bateman nabbed two touchdowns for Crenshaw. One was a diving catch in the endzone and the other was a fade where he found the ball despite a defensive back right in his face.
He nearly had a third touchdown catch but could only manage to get one hand on the ball and couldn't come down with it. He had at least 50 yards receiving on the night.
While Bateman lists USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett as a player he looks up to, the junior split end is already heavily leaning toward UCLA as a college choice.
Clint Floyd had an equally impressive game. As a return man, he was electric. He came up with a 70 yard punt return down the sideline where he displayed his combination of speed and power as he refused to go down.
Floyd's toughness was evident all night, as he caught a touchdown pass over the middle despite being mobbed by a number of Taft players. Including his return yards, Floyd had over 150 total yards on the night.
Stay tuned to Rivals.com for exclusive video highlights of the game and one-on-one interviews with UCLA commits Brian Price and Raymond Carter.