By Steve Ramirez, SGVN
ARCADIA - Rio Hondo Prep, after winning the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division football title last season, entered the fall thinking repeat.
The Kares had most of the necessary parts back, including quarterback Colby Rivera, receiver Jake Holguin and a good chunk of the defense that helped Rio Hondo win 13 of 14 games and the division title.
The question mark was in the backfield.
Enter Nate Tayco, who has had all the answers. The junior has filled the void left by older brother Alex Tayco and has the Kares in position for back-to-back titles when they host Mission Prep at 7 p.m. Friday.
“I didn’t want to be a question mark,” Nate Tayco said. “I think I handled that pretty well.
“Trying to match what my brother did is tough, but I think I did a pretty good job.”
For some, Nate Tayco has at the very least matched Alex Tayco, who earned Northeast Division Offensive Player of the Year after leading the Kares to a 13-1 record and a division title.
Nate Tayco solidified the Kares’ rushing attack, running for nearly 1,500 yards and scoring 25 touchdowns.
He has rushed for 562 yards and nine scores in the postseason, including 246 and three touchdowns in a 42-14 victory over St. Monica Cathedral in last week’s semifinals at Santa Monica College.
“He’s done really well.” Rio Hondo Prep coach Ken Drain said. We had him playing two ways (early in the season), and he was struggling a bit, so we took him off defense.
“Since we’ve done that, he’s done really well, especially in the playoffs when its really counted. He’s really had three really good games and his last one was his best.”
The key for Tayco was that he never really tried to live up to the expectations set forth by his brother, who was a key part for the Kares’ run to the title last season.
Tayco also realized that the parts were already in place for Rio Hondo to succeed. Rivera, who has thrown for more than 1,400 yards and 20touchdowns, is one of the better quarterbacks in the area; Hoguin, with 34 receptions for nearly 500 yards, is one of the better receivers, and the offensive line is solid and experienced.
He was just another piece of the puzzle.
“I can talk all day about the offensive line,” Tayco said. “And then Colby, who is a three-year veteran. They just helped me through it.
“They’re veterans and I was the new guy. They helped me and gave me the confidence that I needed.”
He showed it last week in the easy win over St. Monica. The junior had 139 yards in the first half, including a 4-yard run for a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
Tayco also had scoring runs of 34 and 1 yard to help the Kares stroll into this week’s title game.
Drain believes the junior’s success comes from within his own persona.
“I think he just has a passion for being a running back,” Drain said. “He’s always had. He ran that way with our (junior-varsity) team, and he’s got the skills to be a good tailback. He’s quick and he’s fast. He might be a little faster than his brother was, but they both are the same, too.
“He enjoys it, and does a great job at it.”
But there’s one more duty to perform for Tayco, and that comes Friday when Rio Hondo Prep, the No. 2 seed, lines up against No. 1 Mission Prep.
The Royals (11-1) handed the Kares a 47-14 defeat in late August. It’s the lone setback for Rio Hondo, which is not lost on the players, including Tayco.
“Having a rematch, especially at home, has brought up the intensity a bit,” Tayco said. “Knowing that we get another shot at them, helps us prepare for them better.
“I’m happy we get this chance. I didn’t have a good game (the last time), so I want to show how good we can be.”