Santiago and Rivera, the stage is yours.
1. Steven Rivera, Arroyo — No disrespect to Arroyo’s other players, but the Knights are only going as far as Rivera takes them. All that’s missing from Rivera’s stellar career resume is a playoff win (or two or three). Rivera has won three league titles. He’s shared the league MVP award the past two years and will likely win it by himself this year. But, what separates the good from the great is postseason performance. Rivera and Arroyo got a nice draw in the Mid-Valley Division playoffs, facing Sierra Vista in the first round. Maranatha or San Gabriel will await in the second round, either of which aren’t impossible tasks for the Knights. Rivera has thus far put together an amazing season. He leads the Valley in passing and is among the leaders in tackles and interceptions. With Tribune Player of the Year honors on the line, he needs a big postseason.
2. Travis Santiago, Charter Oak — As Santiago goes, so goes Charter Oak. Santiago has had an excellent season thus far against strong competition. But even though his team is 9-1 and is ranked No. 1 in the SGV, not everybody is fully sold on Charter Oak. The Chargers need a win in the Inland Division playoffs to validate that they truly belong among the big boys. Santiago is the kind of player that can make this happen. He will have to be sparkling on Friday against Corona Santiago to get his team into the second round. Like Rivera, Santiago has Tribune Player of the Year honors on the line. The postseason is when the special players rise up. Santiago already has one CIF championship ring. He doesn’t need to win another to prove his worth, but he does need to get Charter Oak what would be one of the biggest wins in program history on Friday against Corona Santiago.
3. Andrew Elfers, Maranatha — When the Los Angeles Times’ Eric Sondheimer stamped Elfers as the best QB in the Southland this summer, he put the junior signal caller in some pretty rare air. Elfers will be one of the top QB recruits on the West Coast next season. But before that happens, he needs to cap his all-important junior season with a special postseason. Maranatha doesn’t play in a world-beater division. The Mid-Valley Division is mostly a locals only division, thus there are no elephants out there for Elfers and his team to overcome. If Elfers is the players everybody says he is, then that should be enough to take Maranatha on a deep run, if not challenge for the whole enchilada.
4. Ellis McCarthy, Monrovia — Shaun Cody and Brigham Harwell were both highly recruited defensive ends who led their teams to CIF championships. McCarthy has done it himself already. But as McCarthy enters his final postseason run at Monrovia, the expectations need to be turned up quite a bit more on him. Last year, people will mostly credit QB Nick Bueno as being the face of M-Town’s playoff run, This year, McCarthy needs to be “the guy”. He won’t touch the ball as much as Bueno did, but the Mid-Valley is not known as an offensive lineman’s division, meaning the stage is set for McCarthy to dominate. However, the Mid-Valley is a quarterback’s division this year. McCarthy could ruin the season of several top-notch signal callers by brutalizing them with his pass rush. Cody and Harwell dominated in the postseason, much the same way McCarthy did in last year’s championship game vs. Whittier Christian. Monrovia might still be a team searching for its identity. McCarthy could be that identity. He’s the best recruit in the area and one of the best in the country. The pressure is on him to dominate the postseason to the degree his recruiting rankings say he should. This isn’t the PAC-5 or Inland divisions. McCarthy should wreak havoc against this level of competition. If he does that and M-Town brings home another title, McCarthy will certainly go down in history with the best of them.
5. Covina — The Colts have become the overwhelming favorite to win the Mid-Valley Division after going 9-1 and sweeping the Valle Vista League. This senior class is “the class” the school was pointing to for quite a while and now they have four weeks to validate the hype. Unfortunately, though, the Mid-Valley is loaded with landmines. Defending champ Monrovia is on Covina’s side of the bracket. And if it’s not Monrovia, then Pomona or Whittier Christian could be there to block Covina’s path to the finals. Once in the finals, Covina may have to face San Dimas for the always dangerous second time in the same season, or perhaps a team like Maranatha and it’s all-everything QB Andrew Elfers. Covina’s fantastic regular season put the bullseye on its back, now the Colts have to prove they’re worth the ranking.
6. Santa Fe — The Chiefs have a chance to send longtime head coach Jack Mahlstede out in style. They were given the No. 2 seed in the Southeast Division and the expectation is that they will reach the championship game. It won’t be easy, starting with Muir. But Santa Fe is rolling right now and storybook ending is there to be written. Now it’s up to the players to make it happen.
7. Arcadia — Most Arcadia fans will tell you this is the best Apaches team they’ve seen in years. Certainly, skill position-wise that’s true. With QB Myles Carr and WR Taylor Lagace now seniors, the time is now for Arcadia. The Southeast Division isn’t as good as it was last year. The Apaches have the skill players to knock off anyone in the division, even West Covina. All of that means anything less than a trip to the semifinals and a good showing vs. West Covina will be a major disappointment.
8. Pomona — From opposing coaches to our very own Fred J. Robledo, anyone who has seen the Red Devils raves about their talent level. So far it’s meant only a nice nonleague win over Chino and a third-place finish in the Valle Vista League. If Pomona is as talented/dangerous as they say, then the Red Devils should put forth a good showing, if not beat defending Mid-Valley Division champion Monrovia, right? Pomona coach Anthony Rice has assembled a nice collection of talent mostly through transfers. This is his team’s final chance to show the world just how good they are, and what better a venue than at Monrovia to do it.
9. West Covina — The Bulldogs are on the verge of doing something truly special. Back-to-back Southeast Division championships would be an amazing way to remember what’s been an amazing senior class. But this year’s postseason is bigger than that. West Covina’s program is on the verge of something very special when you consider the amount of talent that will be coming back next year. Historically speaking, West Covina looks set to put together one of the best eras in Valley football history. But, anything short of a championship this year and it won’t happen.
10. Mike The Cousin — Over the next four weeks, Mike The Cousin and his coveritlive broadcasts will be counted on by thousands as the information hub of the Valley. On Friday night, it should be pure madness for Mike The Cousin as everyone joins his coveritlive to not only follow/report on their own games, but also monitor how their potential next-round opponent is doing. Or to simply monitor how the rest of the Valley teams are doing. Fortunately, The Cousin has proven plenty of capable of delivering in the clutch. This year should be no different, but man, so many people will be relying on him for crucial updates. It’s kinda scary.
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