Last Update: Thursday, December 05, 2013
|Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer|
|Thursday, 26 September 2013 03:20|
Losing The East Valley League Title Last Year Was a Harsh Lesson for Arleta, and The Mustangs are Determined to Get It Back
M. Terry / SFVS
Horse Power -- Receivers Daedre Brewer (left) and Kevin Moore (far right) bookend Arleta quarterbacks Jonathon Porter and Gabriel Martinez as the Mustangs prepare for their Sept. 27 showdown with Grant in the East Valley League opener for both teams.
One thing has been constant about the football program at Arleta High. Since winning the City Section Invitational (now Division II) title in 2008, the Mustangs have been very good at beating teams they should beat.
Last week it was business as usual against an undermanned Cleveland team. A rushing touchdown here, a passing touchdown there. A punt was returned for a score. A 35-0 lead built in the first half, a 42-6 victory at game's end.
But there is something else bubbling under that 3-0 record Arleta currently sports. An undercurrent of desire and passion now beginning to swell, a sort of dialed-in focus of players and coaches all have about the team goal for the coming weeks.
Simply put, the Mustangs are fixated about getting back what they feel belongs to them: the East Valley League title.
The pursuit of that goal begins Friday, Sept. 27, against Grant, which figures to be the Mustangs' main competitor for the league championship. The 2-1 Lancers are the only other East Valley team that currently has a winning record.
"We need to win league," Arleta Coach Dan Kelley stressed this week during the team practices. "We need to win every game for us to get a good seed in the playoffs, and a better first round [game]."
That's not just regular Coachcliché speak. The Mustangs do need to win the league to have any realistic shot at a playoff run.
Arleta is in a unique situation. The Mustangs were moved into Division I last year, and are the only Division I team in the East Valley. Grant, North Hollywood and Verdugo Hills are in Division II. Chavez, Monroe and Poly are in Division III.
Sixteen of the 21 City Division I teams will go to the playoffs. Teams from power leagues Marine and Coliseum often gobble up the top 4-5 playoff slots, leaving teams from the Western, West Valley, East Valley, Eastern and Northern leagues to scramble for what is left.
Normally the top eight seeds have home games in the first round.
Getting a shot at a first round home game is an Arleta priority, and the Mustangs have little or no shot at it if they don't win the league (and go undefeated in league play). Last year Arleta finished second to Verdugo Hills, the only East Valley loss being a 38-32 road defeat to the Dons. Even though the Mustangs were 8-2 in the regular season, not winning the league doomed them to the 15th playoff seed. That got them a one-way ticket to Crenshaw in Los Angeles, which was seeded second, and the Cougars beat them 38-7 in that first round game.
But it's the Verdugo Hills loss that hasn't lost its sting for Arleta.
"I think Verdugo wanted it more," Kelley said. "We came off an emotional game with Sylmar, and it was hard to play two backto- back big games like that. No excuses, Verdugo played a heck of a game and deserved the league championship."
Wide receiver Kevin Moore, 17, a senior, could not play in that game or any other last year for Arleta while recovering from a left hip fracture sustained from running hurdles during track season. He was on the sidelines watching, and remembers the impact of the loss.
"After that loss last year, Coach [Kelley] was very disappointed," Moore recalled. "You could even say heartbroken; it really hurt him. We're gonna bring the league championship back this year."
Receiver and defensive end Deadre Brewer, a senior, has been on the varsity for three years. But he also didn't play against Verdugo Hills because of a left shoulder injury. There are things about that game he remembers, and not fondly.
"From what I saw it felt like, since we had a lot of injured, that many guys were playing out of position; that everyone had to do each other's part," said Brewer, 17. "There were too many mistakes we couldn't make up for. It felt like not everybody wanted to be there."
A rematch with Verdugo Hills is not until November, so the Mustangs have plenty of time to scratch that itch. Grant, however, is right in front of them, and has Arleta's full attention.
"This game can set a tone," Moore said. "To win, I have to focus, motivate my teammates and be prepared to play."
Brewer was even more direct.
"We need to dominate," he said. "No mental mistakes, no physical mistakes. We need to go to Grant and show them what a Division I team can do. They're good; they sound good. But as my uncle once told me, a player can sound good but go see if he really is good."
The Lancers don't have to worry about Arleta being good. The Mustangs have averaged 39 points a game in their three victories, showing a balance of running and passing plays. This in spite of the fact the coaches are freely alternating two 16-year-old juniors at quarterback, Jonathon Porter and Gabriel Martinez.
Porter transferred to Arleta from Bellarmine-Jefferson High in Burbank, where he threw for 1,201 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games. He might have an edge in athleticism but Martinez balances that out with knowledge, having developed in the Mustangs' program last year on the junior varsity.
"Coach uses us equally," Martinez said. "We go drive by drive. I start off and we just rotate. It's fun and we compete. We get stickers for making good plays; now he's beating me but I have time to catch up."
"I like it here," Porter said. "It's different, but I like it."
Kelley likes what he has seen so far of the Mustangs. But like all coaches, he sees room for improvement.
"I'm happy with the offense. (But) we had a hard time finishing games," the coach said. "The first game against El Camino I think we played about 2½ quarters; and in our second game (against Chatsworth) I think we played three. Last week I think we played four quarters for the first time.
"Our big focus is to finish games, play four quarters of football."
It starts with Grant.
Where it finishes depends on the start.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 26 September 2013 03:45|