By Justin Vigil-Zuniga and Tyler Wainfeld
Signal Sports Writers
We are officially halfway through league play in a wild season with just three Foothill League games remaining.
West Ranch can clinch a share of the Foothill League title with a win but will be outright winners if the team wins out.
Saugus and Golden Valley are in good shape with just one loss each but will need to keep up the high level of play to secure a playoff seed.
It’s not quite panic time for Valencia, Hart or Canyon but they’ll need to start playing their best football to reach the postseason.
Santa Clarita Christian is riding high while Trinity is looking to snap its three-game skid.
Golden Valley heads to West Ranch
With a win over Golden Valley on Friday, West Ranch can claim a share of the Foothill League title for the first time in program history. They can claim the outright title next week with a win over Castaic.
The Grizzlies are no slouches, though. They are one of the teams looking to punch their ticket to the postseason, and for good reason.
Led by a defense that has given just 18 points per game this season, Golden Valley is capable of hanging with the best of teams. The question will be which offense shows up, as the Grizzlies have been held to two touchdowns or fewer in three of their eight games.
The same could be said of the Wildcats, a crazy concept considering how they started the season. They’ve averaged 26 points over the last two games after averaging 48.2 points in their first six games.
Everything starts with senior quarterback Ryan Staub. He’s thrown for nearly 2,000 yards on the season with 26 touchdowns, though he has shown signs of normalcy of late, throwing his first two picks of the season in last week’s win over Valencia.
The addition of senior running back Tyler Scott has helped ease the burden for Staub. He’s rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns in his two games after sitting out the first half of the season due him transferring from Alemany.
Golden Valley can boast a decent run game as well. Junior Julian Rios is a threat to burst through any hole, while senior quarterback Chris Melkonian has shown that he is just as dangerous using his legs as he is his arm.
Melkonian will probably look to senior Ajani Smith to be the deep threat, though the Grizzlies’ main receiver will be pulling double duty. He will have his hands full on defense trying to cover the Wildcats’ pack of receivers, all of whom can break out at any moment.
Senior Chaz Hilst has been the most productive, recording 697 yards and 12 touchdowns. Senior Maverick Diaz isn’t too far behind at 533 yards and seven touchdowns.
While West Ranch’s offense has been somewhat shaky of late, the defense has been outstanding as usual. The team has recorded 23 sacks and 11 interceptions, with senior Brady Van Bennekum racking up three of each, and senior Connor Reyes picking up a team-high seven sacks.
The Wildcats know what’s at stake and will look to keep improving Friday. West Ranch shoots for its first-ever Foothill League title Friday night when the Cats host the Grizzlies at Valencia at 7 p.m.
Signal Staff Picks:
Justin Vigil-Zuniga: West Ranch offense gets it done time and time again. Now they need it most. Wildcats win 32-14.
Tyler Wainfeld: Wildcats achieve their Foothill League goal. 35-20 West Ranch.
Hart and Canyon renew rivalry
Both teams enter Friday’s matchup needing a win after dropping a close game last week. Canyon’s comeback was cut short against Golden Valley while Hart has come up short in two tight games with formidable opponents.
Nonetheless, the teams are on to Friday and looking to beat their school’s biggest historic rival. Canyon’s offense has a ton of potential but points haven’t been on the board every week. The defense has been missing some key players but have played solid these past few weeks.
Hart’s defense has surprised most people in the last two weeks. Now if the offense can get rolling throughout all four quarters, the Indians could be scary good. The offensive line can win this game for Hart. If quarterback Tim Larkins has a little time to go through his reads, the Indians could move the ball effortlessly.
Larkins’ favorite target is well on his way to a thousand-yard season. Wide receiver Shawn Irwin is averaging 115 receiving yards a game but has found the end zone just four times.
Canyon has a chance to take down Hart for the first time in nine years. The Cowboys’ pass rush led by Diego Olujich and Evan Watts could wreck this game.
Canyon hosts Hart Friday at 7 p.m.
Justin’s pick: Hart’s defensive improvements finally pay off. Indians win 24-14.
Tyler’s pick: Indians find a way to get over the hump. 24-21 Hart
Castaic gets first crack at Saugus
No one needs a win more than Castaic. The Coyotes are still mathematically still alive in the hunt for their first league win as well as their first playoff berth.
The run game will be crucial for Castaic. Running back Manny Ortiz had a great game against Canyon but will have a tougher front to get through against Saugus.
Saugus is a bit banged up but coming in off a win. The team will hope to have 2021 Foothill League Player of the Year Jacob Viger return to the lineup. Viger’s absence was felt across the board last week, being the Centurions’ running back, linebacker, kicker and punter.
The pass rush of Deohn Turner and Dario Sandoval will be a tandem to watch in this one. Castaic will do what it can to slow the pass rushers down, but both have been on a tear. Turner has seven sacks in six games while Sandoval has five sacks in his last three games.
Castaic gets its first game under the bright lights of Cougar Stadium Friday at 7 p.m. when the Coyotes take on the Centurions.
Justin’s pick: Saugus defensive line eats. Centurions win 28-10.
Tyler’s pick: Centurions keep themselves in the title hunt. 28-14 Saugus.
Trinity hosts Linfield Christian
The Knights (3-3, 0-2) are looking for answers right now. Trinity’s losing streak has hit three games but no one is panicking in the Knights’ locker room. The team is getting healthier and addressing issues that have kept them down.
Last week’s loss saw a ton of positives starting with receiver Rocco Izzo going absolutely nuts with 263 yards and three TDs. The Knights’ run defense improved and a new starting quarterback took the field for all four quarters. Sophomore Noah Visconti had some great passes but will yet again be challenged this Friday against Linfield Christian.
The Lions have had some bumpy outings on offense but are hot off a win over Arrowhead Christian, which ran over Trinity.
If the Knights can clean up some things on offense and find a way to balance the offense out while still getting Izzo the ball, they’ll be in good shape.
Trinity hosts Linfield Christian at Fillmore, Friday at 7 p.m.
SCCS travels to Leadership Military Academy
The Cardinals (4-2, 1-1) are on the biggest high they’ve been in a long time.
After back-to-back shutouts, the team’s first in five years, and a first league victory since 2018, Santa Clarita Christian faces what could be its biggest test of the season in Leadership Military Academy.
The Wolf Pack is just 1-5 on the season, but that is not indicative of what they can do. MaxPreps has them ranked as the 22nd-best eight-man team in California, just ahead of SCCS at 26th.
The Cardinals are hard to score on, giving up just under 20 points per game in their five contested games. Couple that with their ability to put up points – they’ve averaged 51.5 points in their last two games – and Saturday’s clash could end up being a great one.
SCCS head coach Austin Fry may have a young team, but it has proven over the last couple of weeks that those young players are ready to shine. Sophomores Cayden Rappleye, Eli Duhm, Timothy Tadler and Marcus May all had big showings in last week’s win over Desert Christian, while seniors Carter Aispuro and Landon Hermanson gave the type of performances that Fry would want to see out of his senior leaders.
The Cardinals and the Wolf Pack kick off Saturday at 1 p.m. at Vista Del Lago High School.