CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION PLAYOFFS
Pasadena Poly (9-3) at Bishop Union (11-1), 6 p.m.
It’s no secret the Pasadena Poly football team can put up big numbers.
The Panthers average 40 points per game this season, and that much was expected after a strong showing in summer passing league games.
Quarterback Hunter Merryman’s pedigree all but called for an explosive offense, and the surge of running back Blake Edwards as a dual threat cemented Pasadena Poly’s potent 1-2 punch.
But for the first time during these CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division playoffs, the Panthers will face a team that has just as many weapons, and figuring out containment is easier said than done.
Bishop Union will fill its 3,000-seat stadium to capacity when the Broncos host Pasadena Poly in the semifinals tonight at 6.
Poly (9-3) is hoping to reach its first final since 2003. The Panthers won Division XIII titles in 1998 and 2002.
Bishop Union (11-1) is the top seed and for all the right reasons. The Broncos average 44.5 points per game and give up less than eight points a game.
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This season, Bishop Union scheduled upper-division teams and had its way with each in beating Linfield Christian, 38-7, and Western Christian, 51-6. The Broncos gave up 20 points in the first half in last week’s 49-20 win over Chadwick, but held the Dolphins scoreless in the second half.
The lone defeat came at the hands of Bishop’s of La Jolla. The Broncos lost 21-10 to a team that is 11-0 and plays in tonight’s semifinals of the CIF-San Diego Section.
Chance Callahan is a 5-foot-9 junior quarterback who has stats that would make any defensive coordinator think twice about underestimating him. Callahan, the whiz behind a spread offense, has passed for 934 yards and rushed for 709 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Aaron Puls and Kiko Gonzalez lead a stable of running backs for Bishop. Puls has rushed for 922 yards and 16 touchdowns while Gonzalez has 904 yards and 18 touchdowns. Kyle Goin (487 yards, six touchdowns) and Jaime Ruelas (357 yards, five touchdowns) also rotate in a backfield that averages 300 yards per game.
The uniqueness within the Broncos offense is what makes Bishop tough to defend.
If it’s not a spread offense with four wideouts and an empty backfield, it’s a shotgun formation with players going in motion and a counter-back.
“It’s unique from anything we’ve seen this year,” McGrail said. “What it’s going to take defensively is discipline and open-field tackles.
“Part of the deal with the spread is they make you defend the whole field. It’s a dynamic offense.”
Then there’s Bishop’s defense, which has shut out four of its last six opponents.
Gonzalez has 128 tackles and six sacks, both team highs. The Broncos also feature top tacklers in Schain Thomson (124) and Ermilio Arias (116).
Pasadena Poly’s balanced offense keeps teams on their toes, but Bishop’s defense has shown it can humble pass-happy teams as well. Puls leads the way with five interceptions. Geraldo Castillo is next with four, and the Broncos have three more players with three apiece.
Merryman sits comfortably in the pocket, and his size might have something to do with that given the difficulty in bringing down a 6-foot-5, 220-pound quarterback. He’s passed for 1,681 yards and 20 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
The Merryman-Edwards connection has been on target all season. Edwards not only is the Panthers’ best running back but he’s also the best receiver with 820 yards and 11 touchdowns on 40 catches. His speed and elusiveness have led to 1,653 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Harry Hodgkins (637 yards, nine touchdowns) complements the ground game and Jack Porter (484 yards, eight touchdowns) is another target for Merryman. Chris Levin is dangerous in the open field, particularly on special teams.
“We feel good about what we can do on offense,” McGrail said.
Nathan Hamming anchors the defense. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior tackle has an astounding 16 sacks this season. Team speed also is in the Panthers’ favor.
“We have a number of track guys on this team,” McGrail said. “I’ve heard more than once, `I didn’t realize you were so fast,’ so that team speed certainly helps us to be explosive.”