Ambassador League could return to familiarity

The name of the league wasn’t the only unfamiliar thing last season for the Ontario Christian and Aquinas high school football teams. After the schools played each other for a league championship six consecutive years, Ontario Christian was on the outside looking in at the new-look Ambassador League title race last season.

Aquinas, however, ended the season in a position it knows all too well. Coming off its fourth consecutive league title, the Falcons (4-1) enter league play tonight with the best record of any league team.

Five games into what it hopes will be a return to league title contention, an Ontario Christian team coming off a third-place finish that left it out of the playoffs last season is has shown plenty of signs under first-year head coach Scott Hurst that it is ready to return to familiarity.

“I believe we’ve played the toughest schedule of any team in the league through five games,” Hurst said. “But I still think Aquinas is the team to beat. Until somebody knocks them off, they’re the champions.”

Despite playing a difficult nonleague schedule, Ontario Christian lost its two games by a total of seven points and tied a Jurupa Valley team that remains undefeated.

The only blemish on Aquinas’ record is a one-point loss to one-loss Twentynine Palms. The 27 points it allowed Twentynine Palms is 13 more than Aquinas allowed in any other nonleague game. A season after allowing a league-low 11.8 points per game to Ambassador League teams, the Falcons’ defense appears stout again having given up an average of 11 points per game thus far this season. In fact, last season’s 28-14 defeat of Ontario Christian not only was the most points allowed in league by the Falcons but their closest league game in 2010.

“Every coach on our staff was a defensive player in his playing days so we believe in defense,” Aquinas coach Nick Matheny said. “We’ve switched some guys around on defense but we think we’ve figured out the right mix and we’ve got that mapped out.”

Linfield Christian (2-2-1), which finished second last season coming off a CIF title in 2009, played a brutal nonleague schedule as well and enters league with an identical record to Ontario Christian.

After Western Christian appeared on the rise with a fourth-place finish in league last season, the Lancers (1-4) have struggled out of the gates allowing at least 35 points in each of their four losses while scoring no more than 14 outside a 33-6 victory over winless Anaheim Fairmont Prep.

Arrowhead Christian Academy (0-5) also is off to a slow start but hopes to right the ship under second-year coach John Beck after a fifth-place showing last season.

With only two automatic playoff berths in league, the competition at the top promises to be fierce. Even an Ontario Christian team coming off an appearance in the 2009 CIF-SS East Valley championship game couldn’t earn an at-large berth last season. The Knights aren’t thinking playoffs just yet but they are hoping to return to familiarity and face Aquinas in a game with championship implications.

“Outside of last year, the league championship has come down to the game between us and Ontario Christian for what seems like 10 years,” Matheny said. “It’s hard to say we’re not worried about that game.”