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|Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer|
|Thursday, 17 October 2013 02:35|
The Prep Football Regular Season Enters Its Final Month As League Races Take Shape
The 2013 prep football season is turning a corner this week, not quite at the end but close enough to make out the finish line.
Starting today, Oct. 17, Valley teams enter their final month of mostly league play until the City and Southern Section playoffs. It is both a fascinating and weird time, not quite the pressurized world of the one-and-done postseason but (hopefully) the end of experimental schemes and defining player roles.
Now is the time to make the final push for either a league championship or a high enough finish to garner a reasonable playoff seed. And for the teams that have lost one or (OMG!) two league games already, it is a time to desperately rediscover your mojo and hope some other breaks – like other teams losing – go your way.
If you're San Fernando Coach Robert Garcia, you are in a great position. The Tigers are undefeated – 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the Valley Mission League. They are the only league team without a loss. They also have a bye this week, giving them a chance to work on some things and try to iron out any remaining kinks. Just as important, they can catch their breath before tackling the last three games, no pun intended.
"We are on the right path," Garcia said. "Everything I ask the kids to do they are doing, and they believe in program. Little by little we're making it happen, taking no one for granted.
"Last year we had the bye about the same time, giving us a week to go back to basics and get better."
And how did that work out? Although San Fernando didn't win the league, it did win the City Division II championship.
The Beginning Of Good Times
Other coaches can see this time as the dawn of something big happening. Granada Hills sent out a jolt felt by every team in the West Valley League when it upset two-time defending champion Birmingham in last week's league opener. After enduring a difficult nonleague schedule, winning one of five games, the Highlanders now have a reason to believe the season wasn't just salvageable; it was just getting started.
"I think the main objective for us the first five weeks was to have different strategies, and try different things and looks on offense and defense," Highlanders Coach Billy Para said.
"Where we are now is knowing what our kids can do. We know what our approach should be for the quarterback, the line and the offense as a whole. We also know things we cannot do. My concern is if we are judged solely on what we did in nonleague as opposed to league when they do the seeding."
Other things, like eligibility and team health, must be neatly tied up. Game plans on offense and defense should be geared to fully maximize team strengths. There can be no more tolerance for inattention to detail, indifferent practices or indulging dubious behavior. The stakes are being raised.
"For high school kids, it is hard to keep them focused if they think the outcome, win or lose, is not in doubt," Chaminade Coach Ed Croson said. "It's why we teach the philosophy 'one game at time.' So we have different things for every week of the season. If we're not as good as the team we're playing, we have an upset theme. If the other team is not as good as us, it's about us making ourselves better. Otherwise you don't get better."
"At this point of the year it is important to have turned the corner," adds Arleta Coach Dan Kelley. "We have kids coming back from a sit-out period. We have a couple of kids coming off concussions who missed a few weeks. You want to be healthy, eligible and clicking on all cylinders on offense and defense, doing the things you thought you'd be doing by this time. If you are still struggling with any or all of these, down the road doesn't look to good."
A Lasting Memory
The next four weeks will buoy a lot of spirits and break a lot of hearts, even before the madness of postseason action commences. But they will also boil down the essence of what a football season can teach. About how teamwork and concerted effort alongside a developed work ethic can cultivate a lasting memory.
Not to mention the installation of a belief system that future teams can draw inspiration from.
"We've tried to install a football culture where the regular season is part of the season and you should expect to go to playoffs," El Camino Real Coach Kevin Williams said. "Not all schools have that.
"In our first years here, we dealt with a mindset that, in to past, after homecoming there was a shutdown. Kids eyeballed the winter break. But after our first two years here of going to quarterfinals, and make finals in third year, now they've got it.
"But every year you're working with a different crop."
League Races Take Shape
A snapshot look at the final month regular season prep football:
East Valley League: Undefeated Arleta appears firmly in control. Defending East Valley champ Verdugo Hills is the only other team that has not yet lost a league game, but more about the Dons will be known over the next two weeks when they face Grant and Poly back-to-back – teams Arleta has already beaten. If the Mustangs and Dons are still unbeaten in league on Nov.1, the showdown game will be at Arleta.
Valley Mission League: Unbeaten San Fernando is in best position having already defeated Sylmar, which was considered its closest pursuer for the league title. Winning the league outright should guarantee the Tigers one of the top four seeds in the Division II bracket. But the Tigers still have work to do. Like Sylmar, both Canoga Park and Reseda both enter the week with only one league loss. Both teams have yet to face San Fernando, but will on consecutive weeks: Reseda on Oct. 25, and Canoga Park on Nov. 1. Should the Tigers win both games, its doubtful Kennedy will keep San Fernando from ending the season as undefeated league champs.
West Valley League: Granada Hills' upset of two-time defending league champion Birmingham sent shock waves through Valley last weekend. "No one saw that coming," said Williams. And the ripple effect could redefine how the league and its teams are viewed for the upcoming playoffs. El Camino Real and Taft also won their opening league games, so they along with Granada Hills control their destinies. The Highlanders get Taft this week and El Camino Real next week, and could know its fate sooner than most. Birmingham plays ECR this week and can get back into the league race with a win. A loss just about kills any chance for a third straight West Valley championship for the Patriots, and probably condemns them to a lower depths in the Division I bracket – meaning an opening game road trip to the first or second seed.
Alpha League (West): Sierra Canyon is the only member of this three-team division. But the 2-4 Trailblazers are more interested in reaching .500 than worrying about their league standing.
Mission League: Chaminade and Harvard-Westlake do battle here. Chaminade is the defending league champion, and their game with Serra of Gardena this week will have a lot to do with the Eagles' chances of repeating. Serra is the defending section Western Division and state Division champion; the Cavaliers haven't lost since Chaminade beat them last Oct. 5. The winning streak stands at 16 games.
Olympic League: Heritage Christian and Village Christian are members of this fiveteam league. Village Christian is reeling, having lost of its last five including its league opener against Maranatha of Pasadena. Heritage Christian will play its first league game against Maranatha on Saturday, Oct. 19.
Serra League: Alemany has won or shared the league title the past three years. But the Warriors, after a 5-0 start to the season, have lost their last two including their league opener against Loyola of Los Angeles. Because the level of competition is usually fierce and often even, the margin for error is often nonexistent. Notre Dame won its league opener against Bishop Amat of La Puente, and has a chance to stick the proverbial dagger into Alemany this Friday, Oct. 18. Crespi is the other Valley team in the league, and has yet to play a league game. But the Celts, who were pummeled in four of their six nonleague games, hardly inspire confidence that a league title is in their future.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 17 October 2013 02:37|