Covina wields its biggest weapon: the West Covina game!

Here’s my column from Saturday, in case you missed it.

You’ll often hear coaches say one game doesn’t make a season. Mathematically, they’re correct. Philosophically, they’re wrong.

Case in point: the Covina High School football team, and it’s not the one game you’re thinking.

Silly football fan, the Colts’ stirring fourth-quarter rally to beat San Dimas 27-23 on Friday and finish the regular season at 9-1 with an outright Valle Vista League championship wasn’t the one game I’m referring to. That merely was the culmination of something that started way back on Sept. 3 against West Covina.

Now that was the game. On that night, Covina started its regular season with an improbable fourth-quarter comeback that put in the Colts’ back pocket the notion that no deficit is too much against any opponent. West Covina hasn’t lost a game since.

On Friday, Covina ended its regular season the same way it started it, with another rally to blind-side a quality opponent that appeared well on its way to victory.

When Covina was trailing 23-6 at halftime Friday, the Colts unveiled their biggest weapon: the West Covina game.

“The whole halftime, we were saying we can come back … just remember the West Covina game,” said quarterback Billy Livingston, who orchestrated the game- winning drive.

“Nobody started to lose hope. We all knew this had happened before. It isn’t over until it’s over.”

Covina trailed 23-13 in the fourth quarter, and it was almost as if it had defending Mid-Valley Division champion San Dimas right where it wanted it.

Livingston hooked up with Vinny Venegas on a 52-yard touchdown pass to make it 23-20. After that, a myriad of events that bordered on sheer luck went Covina’s way.

But hey, that’s what’s supposed to happen, right?

Covina started its final drive at its own 25 with just more than two minutes to play. The Colts ended it with a Livingston-to-Andrew Carrillo 17-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left for a 27-23 win. It was just the way destiny had written it back on Sept. 3.

There are certain things that can’t be taught or created on the practice field. Karma is one of them. The Colts found it against West Covina and wielded it again Friday against San Dimas.

With a bye next week, Covina can watch the rest of the Mid-Valley Division gear up for the four-week dance that awaits. The Colts, despite their record, would not be a top-four seed if the playoffs started today. The CIF polls may change that next week.

But even if they don’t, what team wouldn’t gladly give up its top seeding for some of that C-Town karma?

Is Duarte heading toward extinction? …

Here’s my column from Friday, in case you missed it.

It’s been just more than a season and a half since Duarte principal Eric Barba fired varsity football coach Wardell Crutchfield Jr. because Barba wanted to “go in a different direction.”

The Falcons have played 17 games since then and lost all of them. If the direction Barba wanted to take the program was south, then he’s succeeded in a big way.

Duarte was no ordinary football program when Crutchfield was at the helm. The Falcons, after lying dormant for years, sprung back to life when Crutchfield became head coach in 2004.

The team won league titles and playoff games. Even better, it sent offensive lineman Mike Harris to UCLA, defensive back Jermaine Thomas to Fresno State, running back Chris Harris to Utah St., receiver Corey Fluker to UNLV, kicker Andy Vasquez to Arizona St. and receiver Esa Johnwell to Washington St., all within a few years.

Jordan Canada and Jerone Cox, who both transferred following Crutchfield’s firing but were ruled ineligible for their senior seasons by CIF, wound up at Montana and Eastern Michigan, respectively.

Under Crutchfield, the city’s talent-rich Duarte Hawks youth football program no longer stockpiled the rosters of other area schools. The kids stayed home, won ballgames, got scholarships and injected some pride and notoriety into a campus and community that badly needed it.

It wasn’t an easy task for Crutchfield, who met the same roadblocks that coaches of Duarte’s past and present have to deal with – there’s little support from the administration and community.

Heck, I remember the ’06 Falcons had no blocking sled and no equipment manager, and most pregame meals were bought by Crutchfield and his staff.

Duarte won despite it all. The school became relevant again for something positive. Those who have seen the light know what a good football program does for a high school campus.

But administrators don’t get paid by a football team’s wins and losses. They get paid by test scores and attendance. That makes things like a thriving football program expendable.

The point of this piece is not to defend Crutchfield. He declined to comment for this story, as did Barba, who didn’t return phone calls placed to his office.

The point is to show all of you just how fragile any football program is.

The point is to show that winning and sending kids on to college to chase their dreams never should be taken for granted.

The point is to also warn you just how dangerously close the Valley is getting to having one of its schools not be able to field a varsity team.

Duarte’s numbers have dipped dangerously low this season. Two sources said the team currently has 17 players. Barba told this newspaper last week the number was more like 21.

Bassett was in a similar situation this summer when new coach Craig Cieslik ran off several would-be players before running off himself. Drive-by accounts of Bassett’s summer practices put the team roster at 12 players.

Some players returned, though, and the team has fought hard this season under Aubrey Duncan.

Think about it for a second. Imagine whatever school you root for not being able to field a varsity football team. No homecoming game. No marching band at halftime. No cheerleaders screaming on the track. Even if the team never won a game, those things still create memories that last a lifetime.

That day appears to be coming. The only question is where.

As good as they are, none of my previous points stacks up to the most important point of them all, which is that no football program is safe in the hands of the wrong administrator. We’ll never truly know why Crutchfield was let go. Schools, citing privacy, never give reasons for personnel decisions, but Crutchfield still teaches at Duarte and is defensive coordinator at Baldwin Park.

We can only go off Barba’s reasoning at the time … you know, the whole “different direction” thing. He’s certainly gotten his wish, and the program definitely has changed course.

Hopefully, extinction isn’t the final destination.

Roddy gives his takes on the unstoppable West Covina machine … “We traditionally have good speed and you don’t see a lot of our players getting caught from behind either.” …

First off, if there’s ever a media relations course for coaches, I hope D-Ranch coach Roddy Layton teaches it (and I know who I’ll sign up for it first).

I got a hold of Layton on Monday to get his takes on West Covina, who his Panthers play this Friday for sole control of first place in the Hacienda League. Needless to say, Coach Layton is just as impressed as the rest of us by the Bulldogs.

Aram: What’s your take?

Layton: Speed kills, so they’re good. We’ve watched them on film and seen them live. They do a lot good of things, so pick your poison on offense — 1, 5, 20, 21, 84 — there are several (jersey) numbers.

Aram: Will your speed offset some of their speed?

Layton: I’m a math teacher, so it comes down to geometry. It comes down to angles. If take the wrong angle, they’re gone. This week, we have to work on our angles. I don’t know if in a week’s time we’re gonna get faster than we already are. But traditionally we have good speed and you don’t see a lot of our players getting caught from behind either.

Aram: What about B.J. Lee?

Layton: I know B.J. Lee from track meets. He put a smoking on a lot our players. We’ve know since last season how fast that kid can run. You can tell West Covina is fast, but has it been fast team vs. slow team, or fast team vs. fast team? You don’t know.

Ranking the Mid-Valley Division leagues …

I don’t see this changing much. We pretty much know right know what the stronger and weaker leagues are in the Mid-Valley Division. We may not know the exact order of finish yet, but ranking the leagues at this point should be doable.

So here goes …

1. Valle Vista:
Looking at a very probable scenario of Covina, San Dimas and Baldwin Park getting in. If BP somehow lost one of its next two games, then chaos would ensue. If the Braves don’t and San Dimas beats Covina, then all three teams get in. And, I think maybe even a fourth make it. If Covina loses to SD, then there’s a strong chance the VVL champ will be not be a top-four seed. Crazy, I know.
2. Olympic: Whittier Christian appears headed to the league title. Valley Christian looks to be a safe bet for second. Whomever finishes third (Maranatha?) absolutely deserves an at-large berth, though the CIF formula may not mean much unless its Maranatha vying for an at-large with La Canada, among others.
3. Mission Valley: Surprised? Don’t be. It’s close between the next four leagues, but seriously, the September results pretty much say the MVL is the third-best league. Both Arroyo and Rosemead beat Montebello, which is vying for second/third in the Almont. Rosemead beat Temple City, which looks like the Rio Hondo’s second-place team. Of course, San Gabriel beat Rosemead. It’s not cut and dry, but body of work says MVL.
4. Rio Hondo: Monrovia really carries the weight here. But after that, the RHL has some encouraging results that would help you make the argument it’s the third-best league. South Pas beat San Gabriel. La Canada beat Alhambra. San Marino, once up on a time was good.
5. Almont: This is where it gets dicey. Schurr will be one of the better league champs in the field of 16. But after that, the Almont leaves a lot to be desired … unless you want to argue that teams like Bell Gardens and Montebello are better now than they were in September.
6. Montview: Azusa carries the show here. But after that, you can bet every seeded team or league champ wants the Montview’s second-place team for its first-round game. It’s just hard to believe anybody beside Azusa can win a playoff game when the dance starts.

Playoff berths by league (prediction): Valle Vista 4, Olympic 3, Rio Hondo 3, Mission Valley 2, Almont 2, Montview 2.

Top four seeds as of now: Covina, Whittier Christian, Azusa and Arroyo.