Overview … If there’s going to be a changing of the guard in the Mission Valley League, the process will likely begin tonight. Arroyo has won the last three league championships as part of a broader pattern of dominance over the league. El Monte is having one of those rare years in which the Lions have the league’s best player in quarterback Brandon Martinez. This is homecoming for El Monte, which means a giant-sized crowd. Thrown in Arroyo as the opponent with the inside track for the league championship, and this atmosphere will be as electric SGV fans will see all year.
Arroyo will win if … Running back Peter Aholoka has a career night. Martinez may be the league’s top offensive weapon, but Aholoka is a clear second. The senior running back will find space against an El Monte defense that’s been porous at times. What he does with it will determine whether the Knights can trade points. Pounding Aholoka also means the Knights will kill clock and keep Martinez off the field.
El Monte will win if … It can get over the mental block that’s caused the Lions to turn into kitties when on the same field as Arroyo. The mental ownership the Knights have over the Lions is as real as traffic on the 10 East at 5 p.m. Having a player like Martinez can go a long way toward overcoming something like this, but he and the rest of the team had better play spotless football because the defense just isn’t good enough to make up for mistakes.
What will happen … Martinez will make some big early and the Lions will ride the wave of emotions to a nice early lead. Arroyo will use Aholoka to grind away and by the time the fourth quarter rolls around, it will be anyone’s game. From that point, Martinez takes over and makes two big plays to put the Lions comfortably ahead and in control of their league championship destiny. … El Monte 37, Arroyo 28.
Ayala running back/defensive back Jordan Robinson has picked up his first college offer. South Dakota State offered the senior playmaker this week.
Robinson is considered by many to be one of the top players in the Sierra League and one of the best in the area.
Aram’s take: It’s about time. Robinson figures to get several more offers between now and Signing Day. The fact that Ayala’s winning this season helps quite a bit. One of the biggest mysteries so far was the lack of offers for Robinson, but that looks to be changing. Thank goodness.
Overview … Between Ayala, Damien and South Hills, there’s some sorting out to do in the Sierra League and this game will go a long way in doing just that. You don’t want to be the loser of this game with tilts still ahead against Charter Oak and Chino Hills. It’s not an impossible task, but it’s a horrible position to be in. The winner stays alive for the Sierra League title and takes a big step toward securing a playoff berth.
Ayala will win if … Standout Jordan Robinson is back in the lineup AND effective after missing last week’s loss to Kaiser while nursing a sore shoulder. Robinson is the type of player who can change a game at any moment and he’s got the type of outside speed that can give the Damien defense fits. It will also help if the Ayala is as good as the numbers say they are.
Damien will win if … Its offense wakes up. Expect Damien coach Greg Gano to throw everything he’s got at the Bulldogs. There’s no doubt that Gano knows Ayala has not yet faced a quarterback capable of shredding them. Monrovia’s Blake Heyworth had his moments, so Sparty’s Gage Pucci better make the most of his.
What will happen … Eventually, the light is going to go on for the Damien offense, which thus far has lacked an identity beside taking a deep shot to start games. When it does, the Spartans are going to be a force. Does anybody know for sure when that moment will come? No. But given the fact that it HAS TO COME on Friday, maybe it’s a good bet to do so. Robinson is going to make the Damien defense look stupid at times, but Damien’s offensive barrage can match him and then some. Ayala’s defense has made a quantum leap from last season (32 ppg season, 45 ppg in league). Damien won’t shred them like it did in last year’s 42-15 rout, but it will be the difference. … Damien 34, Ayala 21
On everybody calling it a statement win …
“I don’t know that it necessarily makes a statement. As far as what it means for a program, it’s a preseason game, so in the grand scheme of things not a whole helluva lot. It shows that when we can play four quarters of football without making mistakes, then we can play with anybody. But I’ve known that and believe that. I don’t know that it’s a statement other than we have the ability to play with anyone in the Valley as long as we don’t make mistakes. I think you could say that about a lot of football teams.”
On playing upper-division foes …
“We had every opportunity to win against Ayala and South Hills, but a loss is still a loss. It’s not like we’re playing upper-level competition and getting blown out. Can we play with those teams? Absolutely. Can we lose to those teams? Well, we’ve proven that. But with the St. Francis win, we’ve now proven we can beat them.
“We’ve known we could play with those team. As far as proving it to everybody else, I’m not too concerned with that, I’ll be honest. It’s a nice a victory going into league. I’m not too worried about what the people on the blogs say about our division. It’s not about what division you’re in. Yes, the Mid-Valley is not the same as Division 2 (Inland). It’s just not.
“But when you take us out of the Mid-Valley and we play a Division 2 team, are we going to be competitive? Yes. Are we going to dominate Division 2? No. Now mind you, the Corona Centennials and the super powers, they’re on a little different level than everybody else.”
On the term “step-up game” …
“You guys like to call them step-up games. Well, South Hills isn’t a step-up game for us. Ayala isn’t a step-up game for us. St. Francis isn’t a step-up game for us. Those are teams that we can play and compete with in my mind. That’s the way I look at it
“Really, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean a whole helluva lot. We’re in the Mid-Valley. What we’re competing for is a Mid-Valley championship. What you’re talking about is in other people’s eyes. I can’t change other people’s views. All we can do is line up on Friday and play the schedule that we’ve got in front of us. So we try to put together the toughest schedule we can.
“Last year, we beat Paramount, who were in Division 4. They were in St. Francis’ division. Now maybe they’re not the power that St. Francis is, but they’re the biggest public school in California. They have two campuses. Their football team was huge.”
On where the St. Francis win ranks …
“St. Francis is probably the biggest win I’ve had here. Is it bigger than winning the first CIF championship here in 100 years? No. I’m not too worried about the court of public opinion. You want to know what I’m worried about? South Pasadena, our next opponent. I’m not going to change anybody’s minds on the blogs.
“Everybody has got their preconceived notions that we’re a smaller-division team and ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re good, but …’ I can’t do anything about that but play the schedule in front of us and do the best to win those games. The rest will fall where it may. Our goal is to compete at the highest level possible. We’ve done that this year. We haven’t done it perfectly. We’re a few points away from being 5-0, but we’re not. We’re 3-2.”
Overview … The game of the year (for now) in the Sierra League couldn’t be more juicy from a fan’s perspective. The speed and tenacity of the Charter Oak defense against the precision and capability of the Chino Hills offense. The Chargers are 4-1 after a solid nonleague schedule. Chino Hills is 3-1-1 after a daunting nonleague schedule. The winner of this game won’t have the league title sewed up, but they will have punched their ticket to the Inland Division playoffs barring a complete collapse.
Chino Hills will win if … QB Matt Simko gets time to pick apart the Chargers secondary. It’s just that simple. Simko has the rifle arm, decision making and receiving corps to make the Chargers defensive backs look stupid. He won’t get that chance if Alex Hernandez, Andrew Hauser and Matt Cisneros with baring down on him. That puts the onus on the Huskies’ offensive line, which is usually up to the task.
Charter Oak will win if … It can use Aaren Vaughns and the run game as another form of defense. Long, sustained drives would keep Simko and the Huskies offense off the field. If the Chargers are having to play from behind all night, that could spell disaster. So time-consuming drives will be paramount to CO’s chances.
What will happen … Instead of seeing a team that wasn’t ready for primetime against Bishop Amat, fans should have seen a team that’s going to be awfully scary once they put it all together. The Amat experience has paid off for CO (getting Hauser eligible also helps). Expect the CO offense to be much better than the last time everyone in the Valley was paying attention. The Chargers have held every opponent to its season-low in scoring this season. Doing that against Chino Hills will be a ridiculously tough task, but not impossible. Simko and the Huskies pass attack will make their share of big plays, but the cumulative effect of Charter Oak landing the bigger punches all night will wear on the Huskies and that will show in the fourth quarter … Charter Oak 27, Chino Hills 24.
Steve Ramirez, Fred Robledo, Aram Tolegian, Reginald Miller and Clay Fowler make their bold predictions on league title races
INTRODUCTION: CIF Polls, what happened to West Covina?
12:30 mark: Almont League predictions
20:35 mark: Rio Hondo League predictions
31:15 mark: Del Rio League
45:45 mark: Sierra League predictions
1:04.30: Mission Valley League predictions