The two biggest games of the week, from a state rankings standpoint, will both be Saturday at Edison International Field in Anaheim as No. 3 Mission Viejo meets No. 8 Chino in the afternoon and No. 2 Long Beach Poly will tangle with No. 6 Edison of Huntington Beach in the nightcap of a CIF Southern Section Div. II and Div. I doubleheader.
The Jackrabbits are in the CIF Southern Section Division I title game for the fifth straight year, which is history-making since no school in the near 90-year history of that section‚s largest class has accomplished that feat. Last year‚s championship, which came in overtime over Loyola of Los Angeles, came on the heels of a co-title for 1999, a second-place finish in 1998 and a championship for 1997. Since the start of the 97 season, Poly also has gone 65-2-1 with its only loss this year by 29-15 to state and national No. 1 De La Salle of Concord. The Jackrabbits will bring into this week‚s matchup an offense led by 1,500-yard rusher Hershel Dennis and 1,900-yard passer Brandon Brooks plus a defense that last week held Los Alamitos to just 83 total yards in a 28-7 victory.
Since Edison's tie was against that same Los Alamitos squad, you‚d think that makes the Jackrabbits a big favorite. But think again. The Chargers rolled to a 41-7 triumph last week over perennial power Mater Dei of Santa Ana and won the week before 47-14 over Bishop Amat of La Puente. And the way junior quarterback Tommy Grady has been running the offense lately, the game against Long Beach Poly actually seems more like a toss-up. Grady may have a tough time facing the Poly pass rush, but if he gets the ball into the hands of such speedsters as A.J. Martinez, Denny Flanigan, Marcus McCutcheon or Chuckie Linman with single coverage, then the Chargers may be able to score against the Poly defense.
The Mission Viejo-Chino game features two teams familiar with each other as Chino won in the second-round of the Div. II playoffs a year ago. Both also are unbeaten and both won impressively last week, Mission Viejo by 41-0 over Alta Loma and Chino by 32-8 over San Clemente.
With Bob Johnson calling the shots, one of the best quarterback coaches in the country, you‚d think Mission Viejo would have zillions of passing yards. But the Diablos have rarely had to go to their passing game since their running game, led by Robbie Dubois, has been so strong. The team‚s defense has been just as strong as the offense with linebacker Ryan Powdrell distributing pounding hit after pounding hit in every game.
Chino, which lost to Baseline League rival Upland in last year's Div. II final, doesn't appear to have the same passing game of Mission Viejo‚s but the Cowboys can be overpowering running the ball and they have a prime-time wideout in Chris McFoy. Jacob Flowe piled up 228 rushing yards last week, but even more likely to go over the 200-yard mark is junior standout Kes Expre-Olomo. Chino‚s defense features another junior standout in 6-3, 265-pound Cedric Ellis plus rugged linebacker Chris Cordero. This is one game that will be determined in the trenches and Chino has a good start there with 6-5, 295-pound Ryan Parks.
There was big news on Wednesday that will impact the CIF Central Section Yosemite Division Large final that will be played Friday at Memorial Stadium in Bakersfield between visiting Clovis and the unbeaten Drillers. Toward the end of practice Wednesday, Clovis quarterback Jordan Christensen fell and suffered what was later found to be a broken collarbone. Christensen, a nominee for CalHiSports.com State Quarterback of the Year honors and a candidate for statewide Mr. Football designation, has passed for 3,302 yards and 38 touchdowns this season. Junior Tyler Clutts will now start in his place. The Cougars already were seen as underdogs to Bakersfield, which has been led by a suffocating defense. Defensive back Josh Sherley and linebacker Rashon Vercher have been the mainstays of that defense, while on offense it‚s been running back Thomas Stancil and wide receiver Blake Mackey. The Drillers enter the game ranked No. 5 in the state.
Further north, the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Div. I final at University of the Pacific in Stockton features Elk Grove and Fairfield. The Herd, ranked seventh in the state, were supposed to win last year, but got stunned in overtime by Lincoln of Stockton. Fairfield knocked out Lincoln last week and has won 10 in a row after an 0-2 start. Linebacker-fullback Desmond Bishop and cornerback-running back Quenton Manthey lead Fairfield‚s conservative attack, which will have to benefit from the defense creating turnovers for the Falcons to have a chance at upsetting Elk Grove. Junior running back Tyrice Daniels, who scored five times in last week‚s semifinal win over Johnson, leads Elk Grove, but the Herd are very balanced and are capable of throwing for 200 and running for 200 against nearly any foe. Quarterback Brandon Gross and wide receiver Tony Kays have sparked Elk Grove's passing game.
Here are this weekend's other football matchups:
Yosemite Division (Small) -- Sanger vs. Centennial of Bakersfield. Centennial's tie was against Clovis West and the Golden Hawks have a close loss to Bakersfield. That might make Centennial a favorite, but Edison was even a bigger favorite last week and Sanger won it, 25-24.
Sequoia Division (Large) -- Clovis East (Clovis) vs. Liberty (Bakersfield). Coach Tim Murphy of Clovis East called last week wondering if there was ever a school in state history that has won a section title in its first varsity year with no seniors. We didn‚t know the answer to that one, but the Timberwolves getting this far is impressive, indeed. Liberty is a new school, too, but is playing this game with its first senior class.
Sequoia Division (Small) -- San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) vs. Dos Palos. This also will feature two of the state's most prolific running backs in SJM sophomore Jerone Garrett and DP senior Kenny James. San Joaquin Memorial was the top seed, but if the Panthers win it will be a major upset as the Broncos have owned this title in recent years and have rarely even been challenged.
Sierra Division -- Woodlake vs. Lindsay. Woodlake coach Leo Robinson wraps up his 40th season and is going for his 286th all-time win (fourth-best on all-time state list).
L.A. City Section
Championship Division -- Dorsey (Los Angeles) vs. Taft (Woodland Hills). Taft‚s win last week over Crenshaw established it as the favorite for the final. The matchups involving Taft receivers (like Steve Smith) against the Dorsey DBs (like Marquess Binns) could be worth the price of admission alone.
Invitational Division -- Narbonne (Harbor City) vs. Kennedy (Granada Hills). This is the state‚s most meaningless section title since it basically involves the top two teams from the lowest 16 seeded teams in the section. However, Narbonne RB Marcus O'Keith is one of the state‚s best and Kennedy always plays high-scoring games so it might actually turn out to be entertaining.
Division III -- Valencia vs. Hart (Newhall). These two league rivals played earlier in the season and Hart won, 26-0. The Indians are going for their fourth straight section title and if they get it that clamoring you hear will be about them moving up a division or two in the near future.
Division IV -- San Luis Obispo vs. Dos Pueblos (Goleta). Junior QB Shane Lopes has been spectacular for Dos Pueblos, but the SLO offense has been almost as good recently -- with RB Matt McCormick and QB Baker Krukow leading the way -- and the SLO defense could be better than the DP defense.
Division V -- J.W. North (Riverside) vs. Valley View (Moreno Valley). This was supposed to be the crown that Centennial of Corona was going to win, but it‚ll be the J.W. North Huskies going for it instead. North upset Centennial two weeks ago and has to be favored over a Valley View squad that is bouncing back from a 1-9 showing from a year ago.
Division VI -- La Mirada vs. Mayfair (Lakewood). Jimmy Manly has come on like gangbusters in the playoffs running the ball for Mayfair. But La Mirada is one of those programs that always seems to rise in the postseason and its lead back, Junior Vaca, has been unstoppable lately, too.
Division VII -- Los Altos (Hacienda Heights) vs. Charter Oak (West Covina). Los Altos is going for third straight section title and like Hart in Div. III another win should start a push for the Conquerors to be moved up into a tougher division down the road.
Division VIII -- Brea-Olinda (Brea) vs. Buena Park. Quarterback Steve Stagnaro leads the Wildcats, who won‚t be No. 1 in the final Div. III state rankings (Los Gatos has wrapped that up) but do have a good shot of nailing down No. 2.
Division IX -- La Quinta vs. Kaiser (Fontana). This has got to have been a great journey for former Fontana coach Dick Bruich, who decided a few years ago he wanted the challenge of starting a program from scratch. His team is now going for a section title. Unfortunately, La Quinta‚s offense, with RB Frederick Collins and QB Sammy Chavez, might be too much to stop.
Division X -- North (Torrance) vs. Santa Monica. These two Ocean League rivals have been high-scoring all year and a similar scorefest looks on tap. But North better not get as far behind as it did last week against Inglewood.
Division XI -- Lutheran (Orange) vs. St. Bonaventure (Ventura). St. Bonnie will try to nail down its 41st straight win and its third straight section title. It's been lights out quickly and decisively for St. Bonnie foes in the playoffs so far, but Lutheran should be different. The team has played and beaten several large schools and in last year‚s game it was just a turnover here and a turnover there that decided the outcome. If St. Bonnie wins, it also will be named CalHiSports.com Div. IV State Team of the Year.
Division XII -- Paraclete (Lancaster) vs. Montclair Prep (Van Nuys). Another pair of teams familiar with each other. Paraclete won in last year‚s final, 14-12, and another win this week will make it five section crowns in a row for the Spirits.
Division XIII -- Arrowhead Christian (Redlands) vs. Mammoth (Mammoth Lakes). Ski season is being delayed at Mammoth for this game. Just kidding, but the way in which these two teams won last week indicates that no clear favorite exists.
San Diego Section
Division III -- Marian Catholic (12-0) vs. Mission Bay (11-1). There's still one game left in the section as these two meet at Mesa College. Marian has three 1,000-yard rushers, including Patrick Gates, only a sophomore. Mission Bay is led by Scott White, one of the state's top linebackers.