Prep football game of the week: Bonita at San Dimas

Outside of the playoffs, neither Bonita nor San Dimas hide the fact that their game with each other is the most important of the season. After Bonita won the Smudge Pot five out of six years, the cross-town rivalry game has gone to San Dimas the last two. Fresh off its first loss of the season, San Dimas, the No. 4 team in the CIF-SS Mid-Valley division, enters with a 3-1 record while Bonita, having won its first game last time out, is 1-3.

The singular devotion to this game is apparent on both sides. Each takes its bye week before hand, so as to allow more time for the hype to build. League play and the playoffs are obviously important but neither side of the rivalry veils the significance of this series that San Dimas leads 20-16-1.

“League still matters,” Bonita running back Deron Holmes said, “but this game is on top.”

“When you’re drawing up plays in the summer,” San Dimas head coach Bill Zernickow said, “you think of the Bearcats first.”

Following years of heavy reliance on the passing game, a shift in philosophy has transformed Bonita into more of a running team this season. After passing the ball 58 percent of the time last season, the Bearcats are throwing it on just 44 percent of their plays this year, something San Dimas doesn’t have a problem with.

“I love it,” Zernickow said. “They’ve always been tough to defend but that plays into what we do best. But they’re also more balanced, which is tougher to defend.”

The linebackers are strength of a San Dimas defense that has held opponents to 13.5 points per game. They’ll have to contend with the Bonita running back trio of Deron Holmes, Kenneth Calvin and Giamani Johnson.

“The running backs are some of the toughest kids on the team,” Podley said. “They’re not the most elusive runners but they’ll hit you.”

San Dimas, which had to replace an entire backfield that averaged over 300 rushing yards per game last season, is bigger in the backfield this year. Thus far running backs Ryan Kohler (5-foot-9, 210 pounds), Tre Evans (6-0, 215) and Dillon Corona (5-6, 165)have led San Dimas to 316 yards per game on the ground. And that’s not what has impressed Zernickow the most.

“What I’m most proud of is that we’re replacing all but one guy on the offensive line,” Zernickow said. “and they haven’t missed a beat.”

Most of San Dimas’ damage has been done against a soft schedule. Until a 36-17 loss two weeks ago to Monrovia, the No. 1 team in CIF-SS Mid-Valley Division, San Dimas had outscored its opponents 130-18.

“(Bonita) has played really tough teams compared to us,” Zernickow said. “I think we needed that huge challenge (against Monrovia). It’s something we’ve been missing the last couple of years. If you go unscathed through nonleague it gives you a false sense of security in the playoffs.”

Bonita, conversely, hadn’t won a game until outlasting Baldwin Park 9-3 two weeks ago. The Bearcats nonleague schedule consists of teams with a combined record of 13-4 while San Dimas’ first three opponents are 1-12.

“Our preseason schedule has been a little tougher than theirs,” Podley said. “But we’re not downgrading them because of that.”

PREDICTION: Bonita 28, San DImas 27

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