Standing at a Saugus High football practice, you’d think you were at a Zumba class.
Zesty Latin music floods the practice field, blaring from speakers just outside the sidelines. Its purpose is to train the players to deal with distractions. It’s just one of the techniques coach Jason Bornn uses to prepare his undefeated team and sharpen their focus.
This week, the Centurions’ focus is West Ranch.
“They’re no joke,” said Cents running back Quinn Sheaffer. “No team is a joke. We treat every team the same. We’re going to prepare the same. We’re going to prepare for West Ranch the same way we would a Super Bowl.”
The Wildcats (4-2 overall, 1-0 in Foothill League) picked up their first league win in over a year last week against Canyon High and became proof that the outcome of a football game can never be predetermined.
The Cats are led offensively by Jake Rice, a senior running back in his first year at the position, who scored all four touchdowns in last week’s 28-27 win over Canyon.
Although the Wildcats’ ground game was strong, coach Chris Varner warned not to expect the same setup at every game.
“We really come in with the idea of we’ll take what they can give us,” he said, “And Canyon had a good secondary, and we had a difficult time getting consistency in the pass. Luckily we established some running and that served us well throughout. Whatever we can get away with, whatever works, we’re going to take.”
Saugus (6-0, 1-0), which held Golden Valley to nine points in last Friday’s win, is ready for whatever the Cats throw at them, but have a focus on locking down their run game.
“Our defense is relentless,” said Saugus defensive end Jaelin Kinney. “We go out there and play with intensity and aggression.
“We’ve just got to make sure that the defensive linemen, the linebackers, both outside and inside, go to the right gaps and do their jobs. If we do that, we will be successful.”
It’s a no-brainer to point to quarterback Nathan Eldridge as one of the most dangerous aspects of the Cents’ offense, but the players he leads are just as dangerous.
The O-line has helped Eldridge throw for 1,149 yards and run for another 203 this year, as well as open spaces so that Sheaffer could earn 387 yards on 71 carries.
The diverse offense can give opposing defenses quite the headache.
“They have a lot of formations, and we’re just getting ready to try and defend all their different plays,” said Cats cornerback Ryan Camacho. “We’re trying to play really good defense and capitalize on (Eldridge’s) mistakes. We’re trying to keep our defense clean and we’ll be ready.”
West Ranch is aware of Saugus’ undefeated streak, but no team can relax in this year’s Foothill League. The Cats know that any team can win any game.
“Records don’t matter,” Rice said. “They’ve played really good games, we’ve played really good games. We have the same record as Valencia, but of course they play (teams like) Calabasas. League is all that matters. So what (Saugus) did beforehand, we recognize it, but we don’t worry about it.”
Hart (4-2, 0-1) vs. Canyon (4-2, 0-1), at College of the Canyons, 7 p.m. tonight
Indians coach Mike Herrington said Thursday that Valencia High had probably overtaken Canyon as his team’s primary rival.
But, he added, the annual matchup with the Cowboys is still a big game. And he knows Canyon’s offense presents a challenge.
“Offensively they have a good returning quarterback. They have a good receiving corps and a couple good runners,” Herrington said.
That quarterback, third-year starter Miles Fallin, threw for 336 yards on 13-of-25 passing in a 28-27 loss to West Ranch last week. One of the runners, senior Brian Devereaux, ran for 185 yards on 13 carries.
The Cowboys will put pressure on a Hart defense that allowed 35 points in a Foothill League-opening loss to Valencia last week. Defensively, Riely Ward has four sacks for Canyon on the year. He and Cole Manclow are defenders the Indians have to keep their eye on if they’re going to improve protection for quarterback Nick Moore.
The Vikings sacked Moore eight times.
“Our big thing is all six of the blockers, including the running back, have to work as a unit,” Herrington said. “That’s what we’ve been working on. We had some breakdowns and guys missed assignments.
“We have to be a little more aggressive on pass blocking.”
The Cowboys’ focus will be on defending the run better this week. They allowed Cats running back Jake Rice to record close to 300 yards.
Canyon didn’t convert a two-point conversion at the end of the game. But Canyon coach Rich Gutierrez didn’t second guess himself afterward.
“I play to win. This is football,” Gutierrez said of the two-point decision. “So there was no question. I didn’t even think about it twice.”
Against Hart in 2014, Canyon went for two with 1:14 left in the fourth quarter. Former Indian Blake Fall made a great defensive play to save the game for Hart, 21-20.
Golden Valley (4-2, 0-1) vs. Valencia (4-2, 1-0), at Canyon 7 p.m.
These two teams couldn’t have opened Foothill League play in more different fashion.
The Grizzlies, coming off a breakthrough 2015 season and a 4-1 preleague slate this year, dropped its opener to Saugus, 21-9.
The Vikings, on the other hand, beat crosstown rival Hart, 35-14, in a commanding defensive performance.
A key tonight will be which team best manages emotions. Are the Grizzlies still brooding over the loss?
Is Valencia riding too high after the win?
Only time will tell.
What’s clear is that these are two of the league’s best defenses. Golden Valley has allowed the fewest points of any Foothill team through six games (79). The Vikings have allowed 144, but against a couple of the better offenses in the CIF-Southern Section (Chaminade and Calabasas).
Those games provided Valencia a challenge that defensive coordinator Robert Waters believes is for the best.
“Just the sheer speed of the game and the quarterback’s ability to get rid of the ball fast. There was so much pressure on the defensive backs,” Waters said of the Vikings’ loss to Calabasas. “It was pressure they needed to see.”