STATE GAMES OF THE WEEK

Here's our top 15 choices for this weekend, with two of them taking place on Thursday night. Some we like because of rankings ramifications, others for the potential for history to be made and even one because we really like the length and route of a road trip.

1. No. 14 in the state Poly of Long Beach at No. 3 in the state Mission Viejo, Thursday. Damn, it's another Thursday night special, which isn't good for this feature since we run it on Thursday. But the matchup is too hard to resist for it not to be No. 1 this week, despite the timing of it. The Jackrabbits won CIFSS Div. I titles in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001 before losing in the semis last year to Mater Dei. Mission Viejo has won two straight Div. II crowns and is carrying a 31-game win streak. Two weeks ago, after Poly was upset, 17-13, by Clovis East, this game lost some shine as it dropped the Jackrabbits from their No. 4 overall state ranking. But last week, head coach Raul Lara went to more of a wide-open four receiver look, with Rodney Van and junior Desean Jackson playing more prominent roles, and Poly rolled to a 47-14 triumph over St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs. Mission Viejo only won by 14-13 in its opener over Fountain Valley, but the Barons have proven to be a strong group since then themselves and the Diablos were impressive in their last two outings vs. Mater Dei and Marina. Watch for the matchup of Mission DB Marty Tadman vs. Poly WR Derrick Jones. Even if Jones is tied up by Tadman in single coverage, though, that could free up one of Poly's other speedsters.

2. No. 13 in NorCal St. Francis of Mountain View at No. 3 in NorCal Valley Christian of San Jose. This was a terrific hard-fought defensive struggle last year in which Valley Christian squeeked out a 14-13 victory. This year, it marks the top opening game in the first week of the West Catholic Athletic League schedule. Valley Christian hasn't really played that difficult of a schedule to this point of the season, although there isn't much doubt the Warriors are just as strong defensively as they were a year ago, with All-American DL Jeff Schweiger leading the way. St. Francis has played Oak Grove, Los Gatos and De La Salle in consecutive weeks and may be more battle-tested. The Lancers also have a big-time college recruit on defense with LB Will Tooufou. Whoever wins will have a slight early edge in the WCAL title chase, although every week in this league this year will provide a possible State Game of the Week.

3. No. 7 in the state Foothill of Pleasanton at No. 1 in the state De La Salle of Concord, Friday. For years, pundits in the East Bay have wondered how imaginative and successful coach Matt Sweeney of Foothill would approach a game against the mighty Spartans, who have won 141 consecutive games. We'll find out this week and Sweeney has one of his most talented teams this season. Foothill had two easy wins to start the season and edged Skyline of Oakland, 28-21, last week. This is yet another DLS opponent that would need a huge turnover advantage or several game-breaking plays in order to even think about getting a win. And one of these weeks the DLS offense is going to start clicking like the offenses of old. When that happens, just sit back and watch.

4. Eureka at Lassen (Susanville), Friday. This is one of the most intriguing road trips of the year in the state this season. Yes, the intersectional nature of the matchup is there as Eureka (North Coast Secton) is bringing a 3-0 record and a dominant defense, led by super junior Rey Maualuga, into town, while the host Grizzlies (Northern Section) have won 27 of their last 28 games. What really sets apart this trip, however, is checking out all the possible routes the Eureka team could take to get from the North Coast over to Susanville. Athletic director Ron Hartman on Thursday said the route would be through Redding, then northeast around Lassen National Park, then down into Susanville on Highway 44. The Loggers could travel through two national forests as well as past three or four mountain lakes on this trip. Please be careful, Eureka bus driver.

5. Watsonville at San Lorenzo Valley (Felton), Saturday. Historical reasons put this game on the list, although it projects to be an easy win for Watsonville. The Wildcats are expected to end San Lorenzo Valley's Santa Cruz County Athletic League unbeaten streak at 42-0-1. SLV hasn't lost a league game since 1997 and its league unbeaten streak is the ninth-longest in state history. The Cougars haven't won this season and fell last week, 30-6, to Gilroy. Led by all-state candidate running back Shawn Benjamin, Watsonville is 3-0, but there was that one unimpressive 34-32 win over Castlemont of Oakland. If SLV can somehow turn it around and the Wildcats play like they did against Castlemont, then perhaps the league streak might not end so quickly.

6. No. 2 in state Div. III La Habra vs. No. 2 in the state Los Alamitos, Thursday at Veterans Stadium. Many people shrugged a year ago when the Highlanders took the Griffins to the limit before losing, 24-20. But that turned out to be La Habra's only loss of the season and quarterback Daniel Morales is back. Los Al barely beat Hart and had some difficulty with Brea-Olinda after crushing Culver City in its opener. The Griffins have been a little like De La Salle in that their offense hasn't shown the explosiveness of teams in the past. With Randy Estes leading the defense, though, it's hard to see La Habra being able to score enough points to pull off the upset.

7. No. 2 in state Div. IV Escalon at No. 10 in state Div. IV Argonaut of Jackson, Friday. Both teams feature a three-pronged running back attack and both are coming in on a roll. Escalon, with Tony Reis, Jesse Miguel and Marcus Kistler leading the way, has had three easy wins, including a 45-6 romp in week 2 over Manteca in a game it led 42-0 at halftime. Another valuable weapon for the Cougars is fullback John Norton, who often clears the path for those with the ball behind him. Argonaut has been ranked high by the Modesto Bee since the start of the season and won last week, 60-6, over Rio Vista. Argonaut's big three have been Ben Rector, Chris Barnes and Chris Robinson.

8. No. 18 in the state Loyola of Los Angeles at Antelope Valley of Lancaster, Friday. The host Antelopes are the No. 2 team in the CIFSS Division III rankings at 3-0 and could really stamp themselves as a favorite with a win at home over the Div. I Cubs. Loyola lost its second game of the season to Venice, but the Gondoliers may be one of the state's top teams this year and the Cubs were in position to pull out a win before fumbling it away. Loyola bounced back last week to post an easy victory over Pasadena Muir.

9. No. 5 in state Div. IV Dos Palos at No. 7 in state Div. IV Garces of Bakersfield, Friday. Just looking at the win-loss records, with Dos Palos at 4-0 and Garces at 2-2, you'd think Dos Palos was a heavy favorite. But the two losses by Garces were to East Bakersfield and Liberty (two strong teams from higher divisions) and last week the Rams took on the No. 4 Div. IV team, Paraclete of Lancaster, and blitzed them, 39-20. Dos Palos has won the last two weeks over Los Banos and Hilmar from the Sac-Joaquin Section after opening with wins ovr Orosi and Delano.

10. Fountain Valley vs. Santa Margarita of Rancho Santa Margarita, Friday at Saddleback College. At first we looked at this game and thought, "This is a good one between two top CIFSS Div. I teams." So we checked this week's CIFSS Div. I rankings and were floored to discover that Fountain Valley wasnt included. Although the Barons only lost by 14-13 to Mission Viejo and have a nice win over San Clemente, they aren't in there, while the likes of Long Beach Wilson, Bishop Amat and A.B. Miller are. Heck, Santa Margarita (3-0) was only at No. 9 in the same ranking. Oh well, it's the same list that put Lakewood at No. 3, even ahead of Long Beach Poly, a position that longtime Moore League observers have probably been giggling about for days.

11. Arroyo Grande vs. Valencia, Friday at Canyon High of Canyon Country. Two unbeatens will clash in the Santa Clarita Valley and the winner could be in good shape for a high ranking next week. Arroyo Grande is 4-0 after an easy 31-0 romp last week over Lompoc. The Eagles are No. 4 in the CIFSS Div. IV rankings. Valencia, which features sophomore QB Mike Herrick, comes in at 3-0 after a 37-0 triumph last week vs. Oxnard. The Vikings are No. 4 in the CIFSS Div. II rankings.

12. Clovis at NorCal No. 15 Liberty of Bakersfield, Friday. In correspondent Bob Barnett's Central Section rankings, this would be No. 7 Clovis at No. 2 Liberty. While Bob and ourselves don't quite see eye-to-eye on Liberty being higher yet than Clovis West or Edison, there's no question this year's Liberty team is setting a new standard for that school. Last week's 62-42 win over North and the 24-10 downing of Garces shows real strength. Now, here comes the defending Div. I section champs. Clovis lost two weeks ago to Bakersfield Stockdale, 17-15, but came back last week to humble Granite Hills of Porterville, 38-6.

13. No. 5 in state Div. III Foothill of Sacramento at Vanden of Travis AFB, Friday. The Sac-Joaquin Section is loaded in Division III with Colfax, Oakdale and these two. Foothill opened the season with a 35-7 win over Oakmont of Roseville and hasn't missed a beat since. QB Charlie Sherman of Foothill is among the most exciting players in Northern California. Vanden, which is 3-0, will counter with junior RB Demetrius Crawford. The Vikes won last week, 41-7, over Rodriguez of Cordelia.

14. San Diego No. 1 candidates put it on the line. We couldn't really pick between Carlsbad at Rancho Bernardo (3-0) and Fallbrook at Torrey Pines (3-0), so we decided to make a point by just mentioning that both of them will be playing strong opponents. Carlsbad's loss last week to Chula Vista opened up a can of worms at the top of the section rankings. These two games could help sort out the mess.

15. No. 4 in state Div. V Ontario Christian at Poly of Pasadena, Saturday. This game looked very attractive two weeks ago as Ontario Christian was No. 1 in the Div. V state rankings and Pasadena Poly was No. 4. But both lost last week -- Ontario Christian by 41-31 to Kilpatrick and Pasadena Poly by 7-3 to Brentwood -- and the shine has waned.


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