Inland Insider Tom Kiss and crew’s postgame highlights and interviews
Above: Brett Walsh (10) jumps into the arms of Matthew Norman (72) as Monrovia celebrates a 53-14 win over San Gabriel in the CIF-SS Mid-Valley Division championship.
MONROVIA TAKES CONTROL, ROUTS SAN GABRIEL 53-14
By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
MONROVIA — The first 24 minutes was a heavyweight bout that saw an overwhelming underdog do everything but take a physical beating.
In the mist of its first finals run since 2003, the San Gabriel High School football team traded punches with defending champion Monrovia, an epic battle that ultimately proved short-lived.
In typical Monrovia fashion, the second half became an offensive clinic while its punishing defense threw San Gabriel’s offense into a wreck. Perhaps it was only fitting that, after pummeling through opponents the last three weeks with strong second-half surges, the Wildcats would score 39 unanswered points in the second half to run away with a 53-14 win Saturday night to win its second consecutive CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division championship.
ARAM TOLEGIAN: Wildcats setting the bar high for rest of division
There are two undeniable signs that pop up when a high school football program makes the jump from being simply good to a powerhouse.
The first is CIF championships and the second is the presence of blue-chip talent on the roster.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the back-to-back Mid-Valley Division champion Monrovia Wildcats.
For the second consecutive year, the Wildcats preside over a division that surely won’t make headlines outside of the 626 area code, but that really isn’t the point. The way the Wildcats have taken ownership of the division and the caliber of players they’ve done it with is.
Saturday’s 53-14 win over San Gabriel was something most fans expected. But why was Monrovia’s stadium packed if the result simply was a formality?
THIRTEEN A LUCKY NUMBER FOR RIO HONDO PREP
By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
ARCADIA – There is nothing magical or unlucky about the number 13. Just ask the Rio Hondo Prep football team.
The Kares scored their 13th consecutive victory en route to their 13th CIF-Southern Section title on Saturday. They defeated visiting Desert Christian of Lancaster, 34-13, in the Northeast Division title game.
No, there was nothing magical or unlucky. Just brute force with maybe a little bit of trickery thrown in.
Quarterback Colby Rivera completed a trick 33-yard touchdown pass to Christian Torrico with 15 seconds left in the first half to put away the pesky Knights, who were making their first CIF-SS championship game appearance
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Below: Classy move by Monrovia’s De’Shawn Ramirez, who consoles San Gabriel WR Alex Villalobos after win.
MONROVIA GAME STORY CONTINUED
The boisterous and standing-room only crowd got every bit of a championship-caliber performance in the first half. San Gabriel (9-5) showed no signs of backing down from an intimidating Monrovia (11-3) team that boasted size, strength, speed and athleticism.
In the end, experience and depth proved to be too much. Monrovia was led by a powerful rushing attack. Marquise Bias finished with 259 yards and scored on runs of 11, 6, 1 and 8 yards. Senior De’Shawn Ramirez, who was not part of the 2010 championship team, made his presence known with 134 yards and three touchdowns that included a 66-yard touchdown run in the waning minutes. He broke lose and zig-zagged his way down the Monrovia sideline before leaping into the end zone.
Monrovia quarterback Blake Heyworth again benefited from a strong and patient offensive line. Heyworth, a junior, completed 9 of 15 passes for 102 yards and a 20-yard touchdown pass to Ramirez.
Kevin Spencer, Isaac Miravet, Will Thorn, Josh Cano and Henry Crane were the unsung heroes throughout the playoffs.
“Absolutely,” Monrovia coach Ryan Maddox said. “They’ve came so far from the beginning of the year. We struggled up front at the beginning of the year and they kept battling.”
San Gabriel quarterback Andy Guerrero gave the Wildcats fits from the very beginning, showing no signs of slowing down even when flushed out of the pocket. And the Matadors were fueled by an uncharacteristic Monrovia team that drew nine penalties in the first half. The Wildcats finished with 14 to San Gabriel’s four.
San Gabriel hit the momentum radar from the start after Andres Jimenez intercepted Heyworth early in the first quarter. The Matadors didn’t capitalize on the turnover, but the challenge was officially set.
Monrovia’s Ellis McCarthy and George Frazier V moved to the end of the line and wreaked havoc, causing muffed snaps that led to easy scoring.
“We brought him (Frazier) and Ellis off the edges so you couldn’t double team him,” Maddox said. “We doubled (Alex Villalobos) and took him away. We said the rest of you guys have to beat us. That threw them out of their game plan and couldn’t get the rhythm they had in the first half.”
Guerrero was held to 19 yards rushing on 10 carries. He completed 18 of 31 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Alex Villalobos caught 22 and 15-yard touchdown passes in the second quarter. He bowled over a defensive back on his first trip to the end zone and separated from the secondary to stand alone in the end zone on his second touchdown.
Monrovia capped an 11-play, 99-yard drive with a Bias 11yar run with 9:51 left in the second quarter. Bias stiff-armed three defenders on his way into the end zone on a drive fueled with Bias runs of 42, 13 and 11 yards. He broke loose on the 42 yard gain, finding the open seam down the middle and racing down the Monrovia sideline before Villalobos made the shoe-string tackle.
Villalobos and Guerrero were practically unstoppable on their first scoring drive, tying the game with a 9-play, 80-yard drive with 1:06 left in the second quarter. Villalobos caught a tipped pass for a 26-yard gain and then caught a 10-yard pass before scoring three plays later.
“We spread it around good in the first half,” San Gabriel coach Jude Oliva said. “We made it tough on their defense. In that second half we wanted to run the ball a little bit but we turned the ball over and gave them good field position. It got away from us.”
Villalobos wasn’t a factor on special teams, either, and Monrovia kicker Mason Bryant had a lot to do with that. Bryan, who also converted a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, kicked all but one touchback in the first half and all touchbacks in the second half.
But it was San Gabriel’s first-half performance that impressed Monrovia.
“They were beating us with the screen in that first half,” Maddox said. “And it’s not like we didn’t practice for it.”
McCarthy, a 6-foot-5, 304-pound five-star recruit, said he wasn’t surprised by San Gabriel’s start.
“Not really,” he said. “They’re in the championship game for a reason. They gave it a great battle in the first half.”
For San Gabriel, it was another improbable run after a rough start. The Matadors went unbeaten in the Almont League and proved doubters wrong during their run up to the finals.
“We’re not disappointed,” Villalobos said. “We’ve come a long way. We didn’t win tonight, but I’m proud of us because we’re walking out of here champions in our own way.”
TOLEGIAN COLUMN CONTINUED
The answer goes back to the original point: championships and blue-chip recruits. Fans want to see the combination of both, and right now nobody around is doing it better than Monrovia. And Saturday’s game certainly was a spectacle, if not a coronation.
For years, the Wildcats and Rio Hondo League were buried in a CIF wasteland. They were in over their heads all throughout the 1990s and for part of the 2000s. Top-notch teams of the past with some super recruits of their own came up short because even they were in over their heads.
Maybe there’s been some sort of over-adjustment because it’s become quite obvious the Wildcats lay over the Mid-Valley Division. That’s not a bad thing. It’s simply proof that this program is ready for bigger and better. And it’s very apparent Monrovia now can handle bigger and better.
At most schools, losing a quarterback such as last year’s star Nick Bueno would be too much to overcome. At Monrovia, the beat goes on. Bueno wasn’t the only standout the Wildcats lost from last year, but even those were replaced.
Super recruit Ellis McCarthy will be gone next year, as will receiver Luke Williams, running back Marquise Bias and all-purpose threat De’Shawn Ramirez. It won’t matter because, as Saturday showed, there’s a star-in-the-making in linebacker George Frazier and a strong-armed quarterback in Blake Heyworth, who can more than carry the show.
It took the Wildcats some time to put things together this season.
Heyworth didn’t hit his stride until October. McCarthy nursed nagging injuries. Both lines didn’t start to dominate until after they had a few nonleague rehearsals.
By November, the Wildcats simply were intoxicating to watch. The big plays and big hits made several good programs that stood in Monrovia’s way during the playoffs look silly.
Monrovia clearly is to a point where it simply reloads. How many teams around these parts can say that? Longtime Wildcats fans always knew they had a potential dynasty if the circumstances were right. With head coach Ryan Maddox at the helm and CIF paying better attention to how to properly place the Wildcats, that moment clearly has arrived.
RIO HONDO PREP CONTINUED
“I wanted to give our player a chance and he made a good play,” Rivera said.
It was a battle of the trenches – 14 passes were thrown by both teams – with the Prep League champion Kares holding a 13-7 advantage when they got the ball with 46 seconds left in the first half. With the ball at the Desert Christian 33, running back Alex Tayco took a pitchout from Rivera, but then pitched it back to the quarterback. Rivera threw the ball up for grabs in the end zone. Defender Steven Horner batted the ball in the air, but Torrico came down with the ball for the score.
“That last-second touchdown, the ball bounced their way,” said Desert Christian coach Israel Ifeanychukwu, a former USC and NFL defensive lineman. “That’s the way the nature of the game is. When the ball bounces your way, it bounces your way.”
Steve Smith then scored the two-point conversion on a fake kick attempt.
The Kares, behind the running of Tayco, then drove down the field to open the second half. K.J. Moore scored on a 24-yard run to give the Kares a comfortable 28-7 lead.
“Alex was terrific,” Rio Hondo Prep coach Ken Drain said. “The line was good and Alex ran hard behind them. That’s all it took.”
But it didn’t appear it was going to head that way early on. Desert Christian, which finished 11-3, had a field day on the game’s first drive and easily went 60 yards in 14 plays with Kiel Alcarez scoring on a 1-yard run.
“It was hard,” defensive lineman Sebby Rosales said. “We had to do something, like a new plan. We began working together.”
But Tayco and the Kares’ offensive line then took over. Tayco rushed for a game-high 171 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
“I was very concerned,” Tayco said of the Knights’ 7-0 lead. “But I knew we would pull through. The line didn’t stop blocking. It was amazing.”
Tayco tied the game with a 2-yard run to start a 21-point second quarter.
The Knights, behind running backs Chance Gusbeth (110 yards and a score on 17 carries) and Alcarez (67 yards and a score on 13 carries) closed the gap to 28-13 and Shane Nelson then recovered an onside kick.
The Knights got to the Rio Hondo 21, but went back 15 yards on two penalties and a 5-yard loss. On fourth down, Adam Ruggero lined up for a 52-yard field-goal attempt, but Ifeanychukwu called a timeout. Quarterback Lucas Chatham went back into the game and was sacked. Tayco then broke off a 54-yard run, the longest of the game, to the Knights’ 10 and Moore scored on the next play for a stunning nine-point turnaround in 18 seconds.
It was the Kares’ first CIF-SS title since 2008, when they defeated Riverside Christian.
“I’ve been dreaming this since I was little, watching my brother win,” Rivera said with tears running down his cheeks. “I’ve wanted this since the fifth grade.”