When you get to the championship game young and inexperience don't often factor into the equation. Mission Viejo has been here before, they've battled, and the fact that their offense is relatively young can't be a cause for concern. I spoke to Mission's Offensive Coordinator, Brett Johnson, Monday, and asked him about his team's youth.
"Early in the year we ran the ball a lot more than we threw because we had a junior QB (Mark Sanchez) who had never played varsity before. With such a tough non conference schedule we wanted to protect him a little, and not ask him to do too much." A tough non-conference schedule might be an understatement. With Fountain Valley, Mater Dei, and Long Beach Poly among their first four games, Mission Viejo had to be ready from the opening gun. "I think it helped, because those early wins really gave (Sanchez) confidence, and it really gave the other guys confidence in him. That can go a long way for a young QB."
On offense the only starter to return at the same position was guard Chase Moline, but the Diablos knew they had some firepower right from the outset. "Marty Tadman had started some in the regular season last year at QB, and for most of the playoffs for us he was our quarterback. There was a little adjustment for him this year to wide receiver, because he probably caught less than twenty balls all of last season." Of course we all know that adjustment proved fruitful, as Tadman has become one of the top wideouts in the state, but it spotlights the fact that Mission has incredible athletes, capable of doing many things.
That one returning starter (Chase Moline) has a little extra incentive to open holes, because those holes are for his brother Chane, Mission's bruising sophomore fullback. "Chane had been with us on the varsity last year, so we knew what he could do," and anyone who didn't has certainly learned. Many linebackers have had to learn first hand. I've seen Chane compared to everything from a Mack Truck to a bulldozer, and every one of the comparisons has been dead on. Add to that a pair of deceptively quick tailbacks in Jamielle Gummer and Ramon Scott and Mission's backfield is such that they can run over or past defenses, often in the same play.
Against Hart Coach Johnson doesn't expect a whole lot of trickery. "You don't go making big changes in Week 14. We're going out there to do what we've done all year, and I'd expect Hart would do the same thing. There's a reason these two teams are in the championship game, why would you suddenly change what's been working."
Johnson, the rest of the coaching staff, and many of his players were at the Hart/San Clemente game Saturday night, and while he says it was a good opportunity to see his next opponent live, he doesn't believe there is any advantage for either team. "We were able to look at Hart more closely than San Clemente because we'd already played San Clemente during the season, but they (Hart's coaching staff) were at our game against Canyon with the same attitude, because they play Canyon during the regular season. So I don't think we have gain an advantage by watching their game."
Watching Hart's defense, Johnson found out what he had already suspected, "They have a sound defense, there are no real weaknesses," but Mission's offense is so balanced now that Johnson believes they'll be able to move the ball. "Defenses have to decide what they want to stop against us, and if they try to shut down the run, we can throw the ball, or vice versa."
Johnson admits the team wanted Hart over San Clemente, and the coaching staff had predicted that this would be the championship matchup. "You'd always rather beat a new team than beat a team you've already won against, there's just more of a challenge."
Mission should be favored, but that doesn't really bother Johnson, and he's not even sure it's accurate. "Against Canyon I saw one paper that had six people pick the game and three pick us, the other three picked Canyon. I don't think the kids care, they just go out and play hard and try to execute. At this point if you can't get up for the championship game you're never going to get up for a game."
Ultimately it will be Mission's balanced attack that will pose the most problems for Hart, and if Mission is to win, it will not depend solely on Moline, Sanchez, Gummer, Scott, Tadman or any other single player, but instead the fact that any or all of those guys can put points on the board. An offense that averages more than 40 points a game doesn't have a single option, and Hart will have to find a way to blanket the whole field if they hope to stay close. Mission's defense is good, but their offense is what wins games for them, and the Championship game should be no different. "Our offense has had a lot of success this year, and we hope to continue that this week."