Above: Muir D-line needs to rally to the ball, clog lanes.
It’s what up front that counts, as far as Muir football coach Dave Mitchell is concerned.
“I don’t care if you’re running the spread, pro or Wing-T offense, you have to win the battle in the trenches because that’s where games are won,” he said.
Muir (8-4) will have its biggest test to date when it faces a dominant line in La Serna (9-3) in the CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division semifinals on Friday at California High.
The numbers don’t lie. The Lancers have recorded 22 sacks, and constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks has resulted in 12 interceptions.
La Serna, the third-place team out of the Del Rio League, is led by Faris Nesheiwat, who has a team-leading six sacks. Chris Jones and Isiah Osorio each have four.
Muir’s success in the playoffs largely is credited to a stout offensive line that has provided quarterback Joshua Muema-Washington with solid protection. Muema-Washington is a pocket passer, and the time he has had to sit in the pocket and go through his reads has had a noticeable impact in how the Mustangs go about executing their offense.
Once again, the pressure falls on an offensive line Muema-Washington often credits after each victory. It features center Addison Farmer, left guard Jeremy Rogers, left tackle Laurance Lopez, right guard Bobby Estrada and right tackle Jamil Weaver.
“You’re exactly right,” Mitchell said. “Their defense up front gets after it. We’re looking at them on tape, and while they don’t have a lot of team speed they are physical and athletic up front.”
La Serna has produced some stellar offensive numbers and features a balanced attack. Lancers quarterback Frankie Palmer, only a sophomore, has become an effective passer under pressure. He’s completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,536 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“They move him around and he is really good throwing on the run,” Mitchell said.
The La Serna running game is led by OJ Medina, who has 1,410 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“We’re going to have to make plays when we get the opportunities,” Mitchell added. “La Serna likes to do a lot of fast shifts before the snap. They’ve gotten teams at crucial times.”
The responsibility of not over-committing falls on a Muir defensive line that last week wreaked havoc against Diamond Ranch with five sacks and forcing four turnovers. The Mustangs also had four interceptions.
Lamarr McDaniels, Raul Gutierrez, Jajuan Brown, Dean Trevino Iracheta and Miguel Quinonez proved to be a wrecking crew last week. Though undersized, Mitchell says the defensive line counters that with speed, mobility and tough, physical play.
Little big guys
Senior Travonta Herod and freshman Darick Holmes Jr. complement each other while sharing duties in the backfield, and the duo have posed huge problems despite their size.
Herod and Holmes Jr. both are 5-7, but have provided the Mustangs a strong 1-2 punch on the ground.
Herod has started at running back much of the season while Holmes Jr. has jumped from slot receiver to quarterback and now running back. Darick Holmes Sr. is the offensive coordinator, and it appears the winning formula equates having Holmes Jr. at running back with Kevon Seymour, Tairen Owens and Marceles Clash at receiver.
It all appears to have fallen in place on offense for the Mustangs, who have dispatched playoff opponents by the combined score of 87-7.
“Running back is his natural position,” the elder Holmes said of his son. “We were trying to make sure we had all the right pieces in place.”
Herod and Holmes Jr. each scored last week, and the manner in which they scored showcased their skills. Herod scored on a 3-yard run up the middle. Holmes Jr. utilized his speed and toughness to break tackles, bowl over a defensive back and score on a 59-yard run.
“We have a couple of small backs but they hit the holes like lightning bugs,” Mitchell said. “Before you know it they’re into the next level and that’s been why we’ve been successful.
“Maybe our speed will offset their aggressiveness up front.”