M-Town silences its critics for good …

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

We can all shut up now.

You. Me. Everybody.

That’s what the Monrovia High School football team essentially said with its 38-8 win over Whittier Christian in Saturday’s championship game of the Mid-Valley Division at Arcadia High.

This wasn’t just a win, it was a statement. It was a “take that” to all the people who used terms such as “bridesmaids,” “seconditis” and “chokers” to describe Monrovia.

For the last nine times Monrovia was in a CIF championship game, all those descriptions applied. The Wildcats were 0-9 with rings on the line.

The 2010 team wore the shroud of doubt from years of championship failure all season. It was theirs because after last year’s failure against San Dimas in the Mid-Valley championship, skepticism over the Wildcats in high- stakes games was at an all-time high.

When the Wildcats lost a local passing league tournament championship game in July to Azusa the naysayers, myself included, remained doubters.

Not haters, mind you, but doubters. There’s a difference.

Monrovia’s nonleague schedule this season was its most difficult in years.

The Wildcats lost to Glendora to start the year. More doubt. When the Wildcats blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost to San Dimas in overtime, the bandwagon was empty.

But coach Ryan Maddox and his staff slowly molded a team that was not messing around when the truly big games arrived.

More pressure was on this Monrovia team than on any of the great runner- up teams before them. And as is often the case when the pressure builds and the top blows, the explosion was massive.

First it was Gladstone, then Schurr, then San Dimas. No Monrovia championship would be complete without beating San Dimas first.

All that was left in their way was eliminating several years’ worth of disappointment, silencing numerous skeptics and, of course, a 12-1 Whittier Christian team. The Wildcats left nothing to chance Saturday. They knew what they wanted and their defense took it. Literally.

Maddox and his staff had something dialed up for a Whittier Christian offense that was averaging 35 points per game.

Quarterback Nick Bueno was his usual all-around great self. Receiver and kick returner Jay Henderson was a human highlight reel.

The 2010 Wildcats now are legends. They got an entire school and every player who ever wore the green off the hook. That’s the amazing power of a championship.

Soon, they’ll hang the sweetest banner in the sweetest sport any school can hang. Monrovia, in its 10th try, finally is a CIF football champion, and there’s no doubt about it.

Did you see West Covina’s ghost at Walnut? He was there for a little while …

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

WALNUT – Sometimes there are teams so good, it’s understood nobody can beat them but themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 2010 West Covina High School football team. Make that the 2010 CIF-SS Southeast Division champion West Covina High School football team.

Yes, the Bulldogs are champions this morning. Victors over Bonita in one of the Valley’s greatest-ever games Friday … but not before giving their fans a major scare and allowing the ghost of their only defeat this season into the stadium.

When the season started, it was obvious West Covina was something special. The Bulldogs had five running backs who could start just about anywhere in the Valley, a third-year quarterback and an offensive line so physical it eventually would lock up all five spots on the Hacienda League’s all-league team.

Just one problem. The Bulldogs self-destructed in Week 0 and suffered a stunning loss to Covina that served as a haunting reminder for 14 weeks even the best talent can fall victim to bad outcomes when mental doesn’t mesh with physical.

For almost an entire season, the Bulldogs kept the ghost of that Covina game at bay. But at halftime of Friday’s game, they invited him in and gave him a seat right behind their bench.

With the score tied 14-14 at halftime, West Covina was poised to get the ball first to start the second half and set in motion the final two quarters that would cement its place in history.

Then it fumbled and Bonita quickly cashed in for a 20-14 lead. On the next kickoff, the Bearcats squibbed the ball and recovered it. Soon it was 23-14 and the fear of the season ending the same way it began became all too real.

Next kickoff, West Covina fumbled again. You could see the lifetime of nightmares starting to pile up. This time, though, Bonita didn’t cash it in.

West Covina slowly turned the tide and used a safety followed by a 37-yard touchdown pass from quarterback George Johnson to Marcus Haigler to tie the score 23-23.

But the bad tidings weren’t gone. West Covina practically escorted Bonita into the end zone on its next possession, with two costly penalties leading to a 30-23 Bonita lead.

It was around this time that West Covina started doing the things champions do, and the ghost of the Covina loss soon was chased from the stadium.

A 39-yard touchdown by Chris Solomon tied the score 30-30. Bonita marched right down field, but the West Covina defense, as it did several times with its back against the wall, held firm. Bonita got only a field goal for a 33-30 lead.

Over the next 1:46, the West Covina offense that threw the game away against Covina took control and didn’t settle for anything other than the game-winning score.

Johnson’s 1-yard run with seconds remaining put the exclamation point on a 13-1 season and gave the Bulldogs their own special place in history.

Some of you might think it sad that a team so great had to be branded with such a label as “nobody can beat them but themselves.”

Well, this morning it’s a beautiful thing. West Covina was that good this season. The only team that could beat the Bulldogs was the Bulldogs.

But when it counted most, the Bulldogs faced their biggest weakness and instead of beating themselves beat Bonita. And for eternity, they’ll be champions because of it.

It’s hard to top ’03 Los Altos over O-Lu, but WestCo’s win over Bonita may be the best game I’ve ever seen …

OK, it’s probably not better than the LA-O-Lu epic at CORRECTION: Home Depot Center in ’03, but Friday’s Southeast Division championship was CERTAINLY one for the ages. Congrats to Mike Maggiore’s Bulldogs!

And congrats to Eric Podley’s Bearcats! Absolutely no shame losing like that. Bonita played like champs tonight.

(Only reason it’s not the better than LA-O-Lu is because of the sloppy play/turnovers).

What a great night. Fans of both schools showed up in force and Walnut was ELECTRIC!

A season for the ages ends tonight in the East …

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

It seems like just yesterday that I was strolling out to the Covina High School practice field to perform my due diligence on the Colts.

As I baked in the August sun, a Covina assistant coach saddled up to me and in a low voice, as if the cops were listening, asked “What’s West Covina look like this year?”

My reply: They look like the best team in the area.

A week or so later, Covina beat West Covina. Nice call, Aram.

Thirteen weeks later, West Covina is playing for the CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division championship and a chance, in this writer’s eyes, to be considered the top team in the area. Nice call, Aram.

And so it goes on the high school football beat where geniuses like myself are made to be mere mortals on what seems like a weekly basis … and the literate Valley masses are there to remind me.

I should have known that this season would be like no other. The writing was on the wall when the CIF-SS changed things up last spring with its division realignments. I should have known that in the chaos great fun would be had.

After being away for three seasons, I can’t tell you how much I missed the drama of an SGV prep football season. And it seems like I got three years worth of drama crammed into one season. A kind welcome back to be sure. And now the season is drawing to a close. West Covina and Bonita will bring down the curtains tonight.

I can’t recall a bigger buildup to a season than the one we experienced this past summer. Once the party got started, the intensity flowed uncontrollably. You think I’m just referring to what took place on the field? Try the Tribune office.

After one of many arguments I had with (prep editor) Fred J. Robledo this season, I thought to myself that there’s got to be something wrong with me because at 35 years old, I shouldn’t be arguing with the ageless wonder Robledo (he’s older than me) about who’s played the tougher schedule – Amat or Chino Hills.

But that’s me. I’ve got the sickness. I’m not afraid to admit it. I don’t know who I caught it from, but there’s many like me out there who are infected, too.

Chino Hills Tom’s videos from the biggest games were priceless. Mike “The Cousin” Robledo’s live chats from the biggest games brought things to another level. Robledo’s teenage-like enthusiasm for a man his age was epic.

And you, the fans, with your passion were unmatched.

Perhaps what captures us is the allure of watching in real time as a lifetime of memories are made. It’s not only the winning teams who make those memories, it’s the losing teams as well. One play, just one 10-second speck in a lifetime of events, can stick with a player or coach or fan or writer forever. That’s some powerful stuff.

So as West Covina and Bonita take the field tonight to play for the best type of memory, I will be thinking back to August when everybody had hope and everybody was undefeated.

I will think back to September when Glendora’s Chad Jeffries was simultaneously running wild and throwing darts. When Azusa was cracking skulls. When Bishop Amat’s Rio Ruiz took his first snaps as the unquestioned starter.

I will think back to October when Vinny Venegas helped Covina take control of the Valle Vista League. When Claremont quarterback Daniel Kessler was torching everyone. When Arroyo rode quarterback Steven Rivera to a win over rival Rosemead.

I will think back to November when a down-and-out South Hills picked itself up off of the floor and stunned Claremont before seeing another valiant effort end in dramatic fashion to Travis Santiago, Dennis Rufus and Charter Oak. When Amat saw a 9-0 start turn into a 9-2 finish. When Azusa’s party came to a screeching halt.

When San Dimas showed it still had the heart of a champion.

It’s sad it has to end, but it does have to end. And end it will with two teams – Bonita and West Covina – who represented the Valley like the championship teams they both are.

If this season has taught us anything, it’s that the Valley’s landscape has changed. It’s probably temporary.

A cycle. Last year, the final act belonged to Charter Oak, Diamond Ranch and San Dimas. This year it’s Bonita and West Covina.

In another 12 months, we’ll find out who’s next. But for now, there’s one last bit of business to take care of and one huge memory to be made.

Mid-Valley Division championship between Monrovia and Whittier Christian will be played on Saturday at ARCADIA HS …

Just got word from CIF that Saturday night’s Mid-Valley Division championship will be played at Arcadia High School.

Monrovia originally wanted the game on its home field, but Whittier Christian balked at the idea. Representatives from CIF and the two schools surveyed Monrovia’s field today and decided to move the game to Arcadia HS.

Aram’s take: Playing this game at Monrovia HS was the worst idea I’ve heard since the KFC double down.

UPDATED: Southeast Division championship needs a venue; Citrus and Mt. SAC booked …

UPDATED: Charter Oak High is emerging as a strong candidate to host the Southeast Division title game.

The game is on between West Covina and Bonita for the Southeast Division championship, but where they play it remains up in the air.

Damien and Walnut high schools are looking like the front runners. Bonita is the home team, so it’s up to the school’s administration to make a final decision.

Other possibilities are one of the Chino-area schools or Covina District Field.

Citrus has an event at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning and could not its stadium clean in time. Mt. SAC’s football team has the national championship game the next day, so that’s out.

Aram’s take: If I had to guess, I’d say the game will be at Damien. That place would provide some amazing atmosphere and would be very convenient for the Bearcats’ contingent. Covina District Field would also be a great spot, but like Walnut, that would actually be closer to West Covina.

What a night in the Bonita Unified …

Here is my column from Sunday, in case you missed it.

For one night, the La Verne/San Dimas area was the epicenter of local football.

It wasn’t August and no smudge pot was on the line. But all eyes were on the Bonita and San Dimas high school football teams on Saturday.

Things like this don’t happen often, and they rarely happen in December around these parts. The Bearcats and Saints hosting CIF-Southern Section semifinals playoff games on the same night 15 minutes apart, it had to be a dream.

Nope, it’s the new local reality.

If you would have told me back in September that on a cold December night I’d be splitting time between Bonita and San Dimas watching both play for a shot at a 14th game, I would’ve told you to stop smoking your newspaper.

But it happened, and I should not have been surprised. Depending on where you call home in the Valley, you’re either really happy or really sour at CIF.

A few years ago, San Dimas was stuck in the Northwest Division. The Saints’ first-round opponent in 2007? Oaks Christian. I don’t have to tell you how that turned out. But on Saturday, the Saints were defending Mid-Valley Division champions fighting for another berth in the title game. They came up short, but this obviously no longer is Soft Dimas.

Just last year, Bonita was 3-8. The Bearcats didn’t even score a point against eventual Southeast Division champ Charter Oak in league play. Then they lost to South Hills in the first round.

Bonita now is a viable force in the Southeast Division on the verge of winning a title.

This is the new landscape of local football. The new reality happened for San Dimas a couple years ago when CIF moved the Saints to the Mid-Valley Division.

Divine intervention for Bonita took place this past offseason when CIF shipped Charter Oak and South Hills out to the Inland Division.

I’m not about to say whether either move was right, but the atmosphere at both stadiums kind of says it all.

If CIF was trying to spread the wealth with its moves, then the tactic paid off perfectly. An entirely new area of the Valley is alive with football fever. Check that, high-stakes football fever.

I know this because on my way home, I happened to drive by Charter Oak and it was dark … along with just about everywhere else.