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Game On- San Fernando vs. Canoga Park For The City Championship PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 29 November 2012 02:11

The Tigers and Hunters To Settle The City Section's Division II Football Championship This Weekend At East Los Angeles College


These Guys... - (l-r) Khyree Morgan, Alex Dion and Xavier Ruiz of Canoga Park High.

The sounds you will hear coming out of East Los Angeles this weekend will be those of two valley teams screaming at each other – in a good way.

The families and fans of San Fernando and Canoga Park high schools will be caught up in a 48- minute (or longer) emotional vise as their respective football teams battle in the Los Angeles City Section Division II championship game on Saturday, Dec.1.

The game is scheduled to start at 3 p.m., in the East Los Angeles College stadium, and will also be televised live by Time Warner cable and Time Warner Deportes.

It is the second time the two teams have played this season, as both regularly compete in the City's Valley Mission League. When they met on Oct. 26, San Fernando prevailed, 36-28. The stakes are a little higher this time.

The Tigers (11-2) have won five City football titles in their history, the last two coming in 1974 and 1975. The Hunters (9-4) have two championships, winning outright in 1968, and tying Van Nuys for a 3A title in 1981. It's fair to say both teams are hungry for another banner.

"Getting to the title game is a very exciting thing for both teams," Canoga Park Coach Ivan Moreno said. "We've played them before…but that makes the game more intense. Their kids know us and we know them, so it will be intriguing."

San Fernando Coach Robert Garcia is happy to see his Tigers racing, not dragging, to the final. "All our coaches have preached finishing 14 weeks," Garcia said. "I can see more focus in them as it gets closer. I coached these guys in JV, and have known all of the kids since the ninth grade. We have a bond; they listen and believe in the coaching staff." The players are also sounding confident.


Take On These Guys - (l-r) Daemon Thompson, Cristian Solano and Jose Camargo of San Fernando High.

"I thought from the beginning of the year we were a championship caliber team. I didn't have a doubt in my mind," said San Fernando running back Deamon Thomson.

"The last championship game we've been to was in 1981, and we didn't even win that one," said Canoga Park running back Khyree Martin. "So, you know, we're just trying to start a new legacy. Hopefully we can start a new legacy."

Joy In The Community

The level of joy percolating through the San Fernando community over the football team's success hasn't yet reached the levels of the baseball team when it won the 2011 City baseball title. But to parents of the players it has been equaled, even exceeded. "To me it has meant the world," said Kimberly Starr, Thompson's mother. "Not only for Daemon, but for all the boys. I'm emotional. I cried they won the semifinal game.

"For Daemon, this is extra special because he has been playing varsity since the 10th grade. This is all he ever wanted, to make it to a championship game in high school. The last two years were a struggle, but this year I knew they could do it. The team is great, the coaches were great; they're a family. It's an extra special, exciting time."

Teresa and Fernando Solano have four boys playing football – quarterback Cristian Solano, linebacker Fernando Solano, defensive back Adrian Perez and wide receiver Jose Camargo – as well as a daughter, Audrie, playing basketball at San Fernando. They are both very involved in their kids lives and activities, from working the concession stands on game nights to making sure everyone gets their homework done.

According to Teresa Solano, the energy and spirit around the school has risen significantly by the Tigers reaching the final. "Everybody right now is in shock," she said. "It's been what, 37 years? They [players] are taking things one step at a time; they know the job is not completed. "But they also know they have a lot of devoted fans, and we're so proud of them to come this far. There's gonna be a winner and loser on Saturday. But if they can play a good game, they've got a chance. And they have already gone over expectations and have surprised a lot of people. This is bringing a pride back to San Fernando."

The Tigers' playoff run is also reviving interest in the team from former players like Anthony Davis.

Davis was a two-time Los Angeles City player of the year in football at San Fernando, and played (and lost) in the 1970 City championship game against Granada Hills before going on to his own brilliant career at USC, and later on in the NFL.

He said he is excited to see football returning to a prominent position in Garcia's first year at San Fernando, after backto- back lackluster 3-7 seasons.

"I'm glad to see the team progress the way it has," Davis said. "San Fernando has been a power in baseball, track, football and wrestling but football should be and is the anchor sport.

"I thought the program wasn't coming back because the culture and the attitude wasn't the same. I'm glad it's back. And they have a shot to bring it all the way back. For a while, the [City] title came through San Fernando. We were treated like a stepchild by the inner city teams, but there was a time when we were in a dominant position."

The Matchup

Canoga Park has lost four games but its offense has heated up, going from averaging 28.5 points in the regular season to 39.6 points in its three playoff wins against Los Angeles University, Van Nuys and Los Angeles Jefferson. During this run the Hunters have re-discovered their explosiveness, and have playmakers everywhere.

Running backs Semaj Miller (890 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Morgan (511 yards, 7 touchdowns) have the kind of speed that can break down a defense and score from anywhere on the field. Morgan is also effective at wide receiver, with 43 receptions for 650 yards and nine touchdowns, but will start Saturday's game at running back.

Quarterback Alex Dion has been efficient with the passing game, completing 146 of 267 attempts for 2,627 yards and 25 touchdowns, against six interceptions. Besides Morgan, receivers Josh Rivas (29 catches, 596 yards, 4 touchdowns), Davion McBrier (14 catches, 393 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Anthony Rios-Carlsen (22 catches, 384 yards, 2 touchdowns) can all stretch defenses down the field.

"I think our timing clicked in," said Dion, when asked about the Hunters' offensive surge. "But we also know we wanted to get to that ultimate goal, to be in that championship game. And now we're there.

"I also credit our high-powered offense to our linemen. They've really gotten their blocking schemes down. They've been picking up blitzes better, giving me and Khyree the time to do what we do."

On Saturday, Canoga Park has to keep San Fernando from exhausting its defense, because the Tigers – whose only losses were to league opponents Van Nuys and Sylmar – also have excellent skill position players. Cristian Solano is the league's top quarterback statistically, completing 134 of 230 passes for 2,689 yards and 25 touchdowns against four interceptions. Camargo has hauled in 48 balls for 925 yards and eight touchdowns, but he's not the only catcher on the fly; Charles Bell has 577 receiving yards on only 17 receptions, and scored five touchdowns.

When the Tigers want to run the ball they give it to Thompson, who's rushed for 1,313 yards and 21 touchdowns on 140 carries. Fullback Johnny Nunez has rumbled for 323 yards and a touchdown on 59 carries. And Cristian Solano can also tote the rock, with 578 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 61 carries.

"I'm really happy I pushed myself this year," Thompson said. "All of us pushed ourselves this year. It's been a big change, considering all the new coaches, and I'm glad we did all of the work."

Trying To Pick A Winner

So who's got the edge? The Hunters are rolling right now, causing headaches and heartburn for Garcia and his staff as they prepare. "They are a hot team right now," Garcia said of Canoga Park. "Their quarterback has been hot. He's one of the better players they have, he has a good arm and reads defenses. The first game we put pressure on him. We have to get to him and make it a long Saturday for him."

At the same time, San Fernando's ability to play a methodical game, grinding out yardage in bites rather than gulps, could wear down the Hunters. As Moreno notes, "look at our losses and you can see we've had trouble with physical teams."

Both teams will have to keep cool heads, especially on defense. This is the kind of game that can turn on a silly penalty or missed assignment. This is not the day for trash talking or taunting. Canoga Park linebacker Xavier Ruiz is taking that approach.

"It's like a rivalry," he said. "We played them before. I live out there in the San Fernando Valley, too. It's gonna be a good game. There may be some talking back and forth, but I'll let my game do the talking on the field."

And before the game starts, Solano has promised to give himself a moment to soak in "the moment."

"It's going to be a great feeling, stepping out on that field," he said. "I feel we're going to come out, and play like we've been playing all season and give it all we have.

"It's going to go down to, like everybody says, to when the fat lady sings. It's going to go all the way to the last quarter, to the last two minutes of the game. We just have to keep fighting and stay focused."

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 November 2012 02:36

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