Canyon football takes on revamped Simi Valley

Junior quarterback Aydyn Litz receives a simulated snap in practice at Harry Welch Stadium at Canyon High School. Cory Rubin/The Signal

The Canyon football team hasn’t had a problem scoring so far this season, putting up 107 points in its first three contests.

The Cowboys defense on the other hand has struggled to stop opponents, giving up 116 points in three games, including a 54-30 loss to Palmdale last week.

Canyon (1-2) faces a new challenge tonight against Simi Valley (3-1), a completely revamped program since veteran coach Jim Benkert took over this season.

Benkert last coached at Oaks Christian, and Westlake before that. He is often credited with turning the Westlake program, where he won five CIF championships, into the Division 2 powerhouse that it is today. Now, he’s trying to do the same with Simi Valley.

“Coach Benkert is a legendary coach,” said Canyon head coach Rich Gutierrez. “Coach Fong on the defensive side, their defensive coordinator, he’s pretty much legendary himself.”

The Pioneers have utilized two quarterbacks so far this season, sophomore Jack Applegate and junior Blake Adams, who have both put up solid numbers.

Applegate is 29-of-45 on the season with 371 passing yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has 139 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries. Adams is 33-of-51 for 310 passing yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He has a rushing touchdown as well.

“It looks like its a coach Benkert-driven team. They don’t make mistakes, they execute, they compete,” Gutierrez said. “Whether it’s Adams, Applegate, these kids are going to go in there and compete and play.”

Simi Valley also has a talented senior running back in Jackson Sterling, who has 657 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 65 carries. The Oaks Christian transfer has rushed for over 100 yards in three of four games and is currently the ninth leading rusher in the CIF-Southern Section.

He broke Simi Valley’s rushing record in only his second game as a starter, rushing for 320 yards on 22 carries in a 43-14 victory over Thousand Oaks.

If that wasn’t enough to keep Cowboys defense on its toes, the Pioneers also boast a talented senior wide receiver in Riley Hunt, who had 29 receptions for 412 yards last season. He already has 24 catches for 310 yards so far this year.

Additionally, Simi Valley utilizes its senior tight end Carson Gerberick frequently, not only as a blocker but in the passing game as well. The Division 1 prospect, who has received offers from Boise State and Colorado, has 131 yards on 14 receptions and a touchdown so far this year.

Gutierrez knows how important it is for his defense to limit the Pioneers offense, particularly in helping to get his offense rolling.

“We got to make stops, that’s what defense comes around to nowadays,” Gutierrez said. “Playing Cowboy football and gang tackling. Getting all 11 dudes to the ball and making stops. We need to give the offense some opportunities to make plays.”

This game could very well turn into a shootout, and Canyon quarterback Aydyn Litz will be relied upon to move the ball down the field.

While Litz’s strong and accurate arm has gotten the vast majority of the attention, Gutierrez is enamored with his ability to lead.

“The most impressive thing for me is his leadership. He’s a genuine leader,” Gutierrez said about his junior quarterback. “He’s coming into a team that’s senior-laden and to come in and push the tempo and do what he does, it’s fun to watch.”

Canyon takes on Simi Valley tonight at 7 p.m. at Simi Valley High School.

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