Is Valencia High football more interested in ending Saugus High’s win streak or in continuing their own four-year league undefeated streak?
“That’s such a loaded question,” said Vikings coach Larry Muir.
“We want to get a win. We want to get to 3-0,” he said. “You can’t get to 5-0 unless you’re 3-0. It’s about the task at hand.”
Tonight, the Centurions and their seven-game streak take on Valencia (5-2, 2-0) and its seven-year league championship streak.
But Saugus has made it this far, so why not win another?
“It feels too good to believe,” said lineman Jeff Lytle of the Centurions’ record. “There’s no way I expected this to happen because we had horrible seasons my freshman and JV year. It’s just not a Saugus thing to happen.”
The Centurions have developed into a methodical team. They have an organized offense that wears on defenses and a defense that can shut down big plays. In last week’s win against West Ranch, the defense allowed the Wildcats only one offensive touchdown.
“Everything is planned and everything has got a purpose,” Muir said. “They’re very sharp that way, they execute well, they’re disciplined, so you can’t just let it bleed out. You’ve got to play fast.”
Valencia will counter Saugus’ grit with speed. They’ve faced some of the best no-huddle offenses in their preleague season and have implemented extra running and conditioning into their practices.
Although the Vikings look strong on the surface, they’ve struggled to play four solid quarters of football this season. Striking at the right moment could result in a Cents’ win.
“We just have to learn how to have more energy as a whole,” said Vikings quarterback Aaron Thomas. “As a team, as an offense, as a defense. Once we have energy on both sides of the ball, we’re unstoppable and we’ll be able to play all four quarters.”
The Centurions will have to take down an offense that has three solid running backs, a strong receiving corps and a confident quarterback in Thomas, who has passed for 1,743 yards this season with a 63-percent completion rate.
“I don’t think you can shut them down,” said Saugus coach Jason Bornn. “What I think you can attempt to do is try and contain their explosive plays. I think you just have to be fundamentally sound and try not to make mistakes.”
Blake Walkowiak, a tight end and defensive end, has returned to the team after fighting off concussion-like symptoms and gives the defense an extra boost as well as prepares the offensive line in practice situations.
“I’m going against Blake Walkowiak who, for me, he is one of the best defensive linemen I’ve ever gone against and he just whoops me,” Lytle said. “He just destroys me every play. It really does a good job of making me a better player.”
Wins, and consequently winning streaks, are earned at practice. Both teams know tonight’s victory will have be won on the days leading up to it.
“We’re making sure we study the team,” said Saugus defensive end Jaelin Kinney. “We’re practicing hard, harder than ever before for Valencia. This is a very big game and we want to make sure we’re geared up and ready to come and compete with Valencia.”
Hart (5-2, 1-1) vs. West Ranch (4-3, 1-1), at College of the Canyons,
7:30 p.m. tonight
By this point in the season, teams know the focal point of their opponent’s offense long before kickoff.
Hart knows West Ranch’s strength is the running game, the catalyst of which is senior running back Jake Rice.
The Wildcats are well aware that the Indians rely heavily on a talented, dual-threat quarterback.
“They have Nick Moore, enough said,” Cats coach Chris Varner said.
He also highlighted the Indians’ coaching staff and a defense that has given up 18 points per game.
But he knows that if the Wildcats are to continue making noise in the Foothill League tonight, they’ll have to contain, if not stop, No. 10.
“We just have to put ourselves in position to make (Moore) uncomfortable and hope to get him to make a mistake,” Varner said. “If he can start running on us, I think he’s going to get stronger and stronger as the game goes on.”
Moore completed 7-of-10 passes for 50 yards and an interception last week against Canyon, by far his lowest output. But he ran the ball 16 times for 71 yards and four scores to pull Hart out of an early 16-0 hole.
The Indians won 28-22, and they hope to start faster tonight.
“We have to not have turnovers,” said Hart coach Mike Herrington, “and play with more intensity at the beginning of the game. I think we had a little letdown (after the Valencia game).”
Herrington said Hart practiced with increased focus this week leading up to the matchup with upstart West Ranch. The Wildcats have taken a number of people by surprise, starting 4-3 and losing those three by a combined nine points.
Varner believes the biggest difference for this year’s Wildcats, as opposed to last year’s 3-7 squad is belief.
“Nobody gave us a chance to do anything,” Varner said. “In fact, most people thought we’d get killed every game. … (Our players) have bought in and played exceptionally well.”
On defense, that’s been sophomore Ryan Camacho, who leads the Foothill League with seven interceptions.
Middle linebacker Tristan Georgio has been “a run-stopping force,” Varner said.
Hart linebacker Charles Ike is second in the league with 73 tackles.
Golden Valley (4-3, 0-2) at Canyon (4-3, 0-2)
7:30 p.m. tonight
Last year, the story of this game was Golden Valley winning its first-ever Foothill League game.
This year both teams are simply trying to get up off the mat.
“There’s no bye week in the Foothill League,” said Golden Valley coach Dan Kelley. “Every week is a battle.”
Golden Valley knows that all too well. Its league losses have come against the two teams currently 2-0 in Foothill play, Saugus and Valencia, halting the momentum the Grizzlies built during preleague play and even dating back to the end of 2015, when it knocked off the Cowboys, 35-6.
Canyon coach Rich Gutierrez said that loss isn’t what’s motivating the Cowboys tonight.
“I want to win every game,” he said. “… I like what we’ve been doing. I’d just like to see us finish drives.”
Gutierrez feels the Cowboys left points on the board in losses to West Ranch and Hart. His offense, though, has shown balance, with Miles Fallin beating coverage through the air and the combo of Henry Arellano and Brian Devereaux doing damage on the ground.
Fallin is 97-for-173 on the season for 1,465 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Devereaux and Arellano have combined to rush for 1,146 yards.
Golden Valley isn’t one dimensional, either. Quarterback Josh Valano and receiver Jalin Lewis connected 10 times for 209 yards and three touchdowns last week against Valencia. Running back KJ Maduike has carried 110 times for 709 yards and eight touchdowns on the year.
Is the combination of a receiving threat like Lewis and a steady running back like Maduike hard to prepare for?
“Absolutely,” Gutierrez said. “Definitely difficult to have to gameplan for both.”