The game everybody has waited all season to see has finally arrived. Last year’s champion Monrovia vs. this year’s No. 1 seed Covina. The excitement is in the air. Fans and pundits are split. Everybody thinks they know what will happen on Friday night at Covina District Field, but nobody really knows. Here is how I break down this game.
Quarterback: Billy Livingston is a three-year starter for the Colts and has played like one of the top QBs in the area this season when healthy. If you’re looking for freebies from Billy The Kid, you’re wasting your time. His 28-to-3 touchdown-to-interceptions ratio shows just how locked in he’s been this year. Earlier in his career, Livingston used his legs. Although he has the ability to scramble, taking hits has proven to be something the Colts cannot afford from their QB. Livingston has to start and finish this game. Blake Heyworth has differentiated himself from other options Monrovia tried this season and has put up strong numbers in the process. Heyworth has thrown for 2,046 yards and has a nice TD/INT ratio of 21/4. Livingston has considerably more games under his belt and more playoff experience, although neither has played in a game of this magnitude in the postseason. Livingston has also shown the ability to rally his team against good competition (see West Covina last 2 years).
Running back: At the start of the season, most people figured Deshawn Ramirez would get the majority of the carries this season. It hasn’t worked out that way and Marquise Bias has done most of the damage on the ground for Monrovia with 1,223 yards and 16 TDs. Gevontray Ainsworth has carried the load nicely for Covina this season, blossoming into the runner area fans thought he would be after a solid sophomore season. Ainsworth runs well between the tackles thanks to his size and has shown the ability to break tackles with regularity. Bias also has nice size, but isn’t as tall as Ainsworth nor does he weigh as much. Ainsworth and Bias look like a wash, but when you consider that M-Town has a nice change-of-pace option like Ramirez to put in the mix, then Monrovia rates the advantage.
Receivers: Both teams put on display an excellent array of impressive frames. College recruiters should take notice. Vinny Venegas, Justin Mason and Peter De La Cruz make up an outstanding trio. Mason, at 6-foot-6, has been a major matchup issue for Covina’s opponents this season. And with Livingston one of the best touch passers and deep-ball throwers around, Mason has flourished to the tune of 13 TDs in just 32 receptions. Venegas is the total package and De La Cruz, though small, can get behind defense and simply does not drop passes. Monrovia’s group features good size, good speed and solid hands. That’s why there are four Wildcats receivers with over 500 yards this season. This is a very close call, but …
Offensive line: Both teams bring some nice beef to the line of scrimmage. Covina’s size and physicality made it able to stand up well to West Covina’s defensive front and also push around (Coach Z’s words and mine) San Dimas. The Colts have proven to be good at both run blocking and protecting Livingston … and they’d better be good at the latter with Ellis McCarthy attacking on Friday. Monrovia wouldn’t be putting up the type of numbers it has this season without a good offensive line. The question you need to ask yourself is has Monrovia seen a defensive front comparable to West Covina’s, like Covina has this season? Judging by M-Town’s schedule, it doesn’t look like it. Covina’s O-line has seen a strong defensive line this season, not sure you can say the same about Monrovia.
Defensive line: The way Ellis McCarthy can either dominate the game by himself or pave the way for his fellow linemen to do it, is simply spectacular. McCarthy is man-child out there who is certain to wreak havoc. The emergence of the rest of the Monrovia’s defensive line has to be a scary sight for the Colts. Covina’s defensive line ain’t too shabby either. Nick Hynes and Phil Romano are two very imposing d-linemen and they were able to put the brakes on Pomona running Sir-Darius Yarbough much better than Monrovia did. Both defensive lines are going to have their moments in this game, but it’s hard to go against any group led by a phenom like Big Ellis.
Linebackers: Wow. Two of the very best around in this game in Monrovia’s George “G5″ Frazier and Covina’s Johnny Padilla. If you’re a fan of big-time linebacker play, this game is for you and just watch No. 30 for C-Town and No. 5 for M-Town. Tackling statistics vary by school and the subjectivity of the stat keeper, but Padilla’s 120 tackles appear to be legit. They do things slightly different and look different doing it, but these two linebacking corps are quite simply so good you can’t split them.
Secondary: Monrovia’s secondary boasts the better collection of pure athletes. And that can be huge in a game like this. It can be culture shock when a group of receivers is matched against a group of DBs that they can’t simply run away from. Again, go back to the West Covina game and take notice of the fact that Covina has already seen what a legitimately talented secondary looks like. Covina will have its troubles with Monrovia’s four-headed monster at receiver. There are just simply too many good talents on the field at one time for Covina to think it can match up man for man. Venegas is a nice cover corner, but the rest of the Covina secondary had better hope that Heyworth is having an off night.
Special teams: Ramirez is as dangerous of a kick returner as they come. Mason Bryant has proven to be an effective punter for Monrovia. Venegas is also a very dangerous return man. Believe it or not, I get the vibe that fumbles in the kicking game are going to play a role in this game. It’s hard to predict a kick return for TD in any game, but if it happens, Monrovia, thanks to Ramirez’s amazing balance and moves, appears more likely to produce it. A kicking game TD be it either a return or via a mistake could decide this game.
Coaching: Timing is everything. Had Covina been in this version of the Mid-Valley Division seven years ago, head coach Darryl Thomas would have two rings. M-Town coach Ryan Maddox got in at the right time and has taken advantage by reaching the finals twice and winning it once. Both staffs are excellent. Both head coaches are excellent. If you guys want to argue about who’s better, be my guest. But I can’t split ‘em … plus, I have to call them all year long for info.
Why Monrovia will win: Talent-wise, Monrovia is probably slightly better if we’re counting frames that pass the look test. When you combine talent with cohesion, championships usually follow. Has Monrovia put it together? Recent results say yes. Heyworth has been outstanding, and the QB position (if you’ve read me dating back to summer) was the key with this team all along. With somebody to distribute the ball to all that talent. Monrovia can burn teams in several ways. Defensively, Monrovia has a chance to match Covina’s speed outside and stuff Covina’s inside run. That’s a scary thought if you’re a Colts fan.
Why Covina will win: The Colts have a good combination of everything. I’ve said that since summer; Covina is the most complete team in the area. They play good defense, they’re stout on both lines, they have speed outside, they have a QB who can thread the rock just about anywhere … the list goes on. Covina has the size to matchup to Monrovia, which is something few teams can say. In Livingston, Covina has a QB who has been around long enough that he won’t be rattled by anything to do with a big game. Forget about how Monrovia did against San Dimas, let’s talk about how Covina did against San Dimas. The Colts fell behind early and then put (if I recall correctly) a 31-0 run on the Saints. Fans there that night got to see just how fantastic this team can be when it’s healthy and clicking. And when Covina is clicking like that, NOBODY in this division can hang with the Colts.
What will happen: This game comes down to who’s offense do you trust more? For me, that answer is easy. With Livingston healthy, Covina has never had a problem with consistency on offense. The Colts can run and throw with great precision. You can’t say that about Monrovia. The early season struggles may have been a long time ago, but they’re still there. The question anybody picking this game must answer is whether you think Monrovia’s “getting good” coincided with the schedule getting easier, as appears to be the case. Covina has nothing to apologize for or make excuses about on its resume. The Colts swung for four quarters and an overtime period with 11-1 West Covina. They put a run on San Dimas that made the Saints look like they didn’t belong in the same division. Those two lines are better than just about anything on Monrovia’s resume. The ‘Cats have excellent talent, but this isn’t Pomona or Whittier Christian or Paramount they’re playing. This game will be about cohesion and given Monrovia’s earlier struggles in that department against class competition, Covina is the more reliable side. …. Covina 40, Monrovia 28.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemicalAT