West Covina coach Mike Maggiore on 84-21: “I never wanted that to happen.”

West Covina returns to the scene of the crime on Friday night when it takes on La Serna in a rematch of last year’s CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division championship game, in which the Bulldogs put an all-time beatdown on the Lancers with an 84-21 win.

The two teams will be back at California High on Friday, but this time there’s no championship on the line. Just major revenge for the Lancers and a chance to play in next week’s title game for both teams.

Although West Covina is a much different team with a much different roster from last season, they’re still the two-time defending division champions and represent the culprit in the most embarrassing loss in La Serna’s history.

“I guess I’m trying to downplay that part of it,” Maggiore said of last year’s 84-21 score. “On the bus going home, I said I wished it was 35-14. I didn’t want that to happen, but it’s hard to tell the kids not to play.”

West Covina jumped all over La Serna in last year’s title game behind the likes of Chris Solomon, Jimmy Frazier, Justen Meaders and Dorrin Turner. All of them graduated in June and the Bulldogs now feature a roster of several guys playing out of position due to a season-long injury bug that’s caused coaches to shuffle the starting lineups on seemingly a weekly basis

Last week, junior Henry Tarin became the Bulldogs’ third quarterback of the season when he stepped in for injured Jon Najera so that back-up quarterback Antonio “Noodles” Hull could remain at running back. Tarin will likely see considerable time under center again this week.

Although several key cogs from last year’s La Serna’s team have also graduated, there are plenty who still remember the embarrassment on the roster. None more important than junior quarterback Frankie Palmer, who has become arguably the top player in the division.

La Serna has been a force this season. The Lancers are 11-1 and haven’t lost since a setback against Norco on Sept. 21. West Covina is 8-4 and riding a four-game win streak that has seen the Bulldogs knock off league champions Paramount and Muir in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

“They’re much better than they were last year,” Maggiore said of La Sernra. “You can tell they’re much more confident. They’re a great football team and it’s going to be tough.”

A 3-0 mark in the first round and two record-setting QBs in two years, the Mission Valley League earns respect

The Mission Valley League’s seemingly never-ending quest for respect got bolstered in a big way last Friday night.

The league’s three high school football teams all advanced to the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division playoffs. No other local league can boast the same feat.

For the Mission Valley players and coaches, it’s just more evidence they can point to for proof that the league’s bad rap is undeserved.

“The first thing that came to my mind was respect for our league,” El Monte head coach Joel Sanchez said. “Everybody always puts us down and says that we only have one team that does well. This kind of sends a message to everyone else that the Mission Valley League is getting better.
“And for next season, a lot more teams are going to have to respect us coming in more than they did this year.”

Sanchez’s Lions posted a thrilling 44-43 win over Montebello. South El Monte got past Covina, 31-24. And Arroyo, which needed to win in Week 10 just to finish third and make the playoffs, posted the biggest shocker of the night by slamming Almont League champion Bell Gardens with a 42-14 rout.

Not bad for a league that most consider to be an afterthought. That may be slowly changing not only because of last week’s results, but also because of the record-breaking talents now playing in the league.

Last season, Arroyo’s Steven Rivera put himself in the Southern Section’s top 10 career passing yards and career touchdown passes leaders. Rivera went on to be named the Tribune’s Player of the Year.

This year, the record-breaking is coming from El Monte quarterback Brandon Martinez, who is now the Valley’s all-time single season passing yards leader after he broke Los Altos’ Mike Smith’s record of 3,265 yards. Martinez is also tied with Bishop Amat’s Pat Haden and Los Altos’ Felipe Aguilar for most touchdown passes in a season with 42. He can break the record this Friday against Paraclete.

Martinez’s numbers this season are mind boggling. The senior has 3,951 yards and 42 touchdowns. He’s also run for 719 yards and eight scores.

“If it was so easy, somebody would be doing it every year,” Sanchez said of Martinez’s gaudy numbers. “But they’re not. When you have Brandon and our offense, then you have a shot against everyone you play. You have to respect that. They’re not averaging 40 points per game just because we’re getting lucky. They’re putting in work.”

As nice as last week’s results were, it’s a long shot that any of the Mission Valley teams will be around after Friday night. All three are in very difficult situations. South El Monte plays at two-time defending division champ Monrovia, and the Eagles may be without quarterback Levi Wells, who got injured last week.

Arroyo got a home game, but the Knights are hosting a defending state championship bowl game winner in Sierra Canyon. And El Monte’s reward for edging Montebello is a road trip to No. 1 seed Paraclete.

But even if all three teams are done on Friday night, Arroyo head coach Jim Singiser feels that plenty has already been proven.

“I’m thinking about having a practice on Thanksgiving whether we advance or not because I feel like the kids deserve it,” Singiser said with a chuckle. “It’s the first time it’s happened in the 20 years I’ve been at Arroyo. We’ve never had three teams advance. It’s a neat deal.

“I don’t know why, offensively, we broke out against Bell Gardens, but I’m happy we did. You always preach all three phases of the game and it doesn’t happen too often that we get that.”

If you’re looking for a reason as to why the league had such success in the opening round, a good place to start would be the nonleague schedule of all three teams. Arroyo routed co-Hacienda League champion Rowland, but also took its lumps against Los Altos and La Puente.

El Monte played Gladstone (10-1) and fell in four overtimes. But the Lions did beat Bell Gardens and Covina. South El Monte cut its teeth against playoff teams Montebello, Northview and San Marino. The Eagles lost all three games, but beside Monrovia, nobody has given San Marino (10-1) a better game this season.

Strangely, the Mission Valley League petitioned the Southern Section last spring to leave the Mid-Valley Division and be moved to the Northwest Division along with former Mid-Valley inhabitants the Montview and Olympic leagues. But the league was shot down and kept in the Mid-Valley.

“My issue with the Mid-Valley wasn’t the Mid-Valley Division as it was,” Singiser said. “I liked having the Montview and Olympic leagues in it. I wanted to stay in that division. And our league as a whole wanted to stay in that division.

“The desire to move came when they brought the Alpha League into our division. This week, two of our three schools get the Alpha League schools we were petitioning to stay away from.”

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La Puente’s Vasquez bounces back after brush with tragedy …

Forget about football. Ivan Vasquez’s life as he knew it was almost ended.

Nobody will ever know just how close the three-year starting quarterback for the La Puente High School football came to being paralyzed or mentally disabled on that scary night back in September, when the entire community came to a standstill as the Warriors’ star player lay motionless on the field.

What we do know is doctors told Vasquez he was very lucky as they released him from Queen of the Valley Hospital hours after the incident.

Vasquez remembers only the before and after, but not the scariest part. The part where two rival teams gathered at midfield to pray for him. The part where two opposing coaches got together and decided to prematurely end a key game with more than 10 minutes left to play. The part where his frightened family members shed tears while paramedics worked to help him.

But he can tell us this: “The play was to roll out to the right and right when I got the snap I rolled out to the right and saw the nose tackle come at me,” Vasquez said.

“He hit me and I bounced off of him and I ran the opposite way. I was trying to run to the sideline but another guy got me. He got my leg and I just whip-lashed to the ground. Pretty much, my head hit the ground and that’s when everything went blank. Right when I hit the ground, I saw black and white. And then I was out for a couple minutes.”

As Vasquez lay unconscious, the stadium fell silent.

The reminder of just what type of risk our local athletes take each time they strap on their protective armor and take the field in the name of school pride was ever-present in the form of a motionless teenager whose short- and long-term health was called into question in a matter of seconds.

“I had seen knees and ankles twisted, but that was the first time I had ever seen somebody completely knocked out and not responding,” La Puente coach Brandon Rohrer said.

“That’s really hard to see.”

Vasquez was taken by ambulance to a hospital. Somewhere along the way he regained full consciousness and remembers the ambulance ride and emergency room clutter. After having tests done, doctors released Vasquez but not before telling him how fortunate he was to be literally walking out of the hospital.

“They said it was very swollen and that I had hurt my neck really bad,” Vasquez said. “They said it was going to hurt me for months and that I’m going to get headaches that come and go.

“I was like, `Thank God, I can be back on my feet again.’ That was the first thing that went through my head was that I could walk again.”

Vasquez still was woozy when he left the hospital and needed assistance walking. Then, after several days of rest, a strange thing happened.

Vasquez started getting the urge to play football again … much to his mother’s chagrin.

“She’s an old-school mom and she told me she didn’t want me to play anymore because she didn’t want to see me in that position again,” Vasquez said. “But I told her I understood where she’s coming from, but that’s my thing, I love to play football.

“I told my mom I had to fight it to the end and I couldn’t leave my teammates hanging.”

After taking a week off to think about it while his teammates played and whipped Ganesha, Vasquez made up his mind that he would be back on the field the following week in a key league against Sierra Vista. The news of his decision caused his mother to break down and for Rohrer to have his own reservations.

“Your major concern, obviously, is your player’s health,” Rohrer said. “These guys, a lot of them aren’t going to go play in college. So you have to think about their life after football.

“He experienced headaches for a while and I told him `Once you don’t have headaches for a couple of days, come and see me and we’ll talk more about playing.’ Basically, it has to be a family decision, not mine.”

Sure enough, Vasquez was back on the field for the Sierra Vista game. A little scared and a little cautious, he completed 7 of 10 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the Warriors’ 42-0 win.

But the stats and the win weren’t the only positives to come out of the game. Vasquez suffered a late hit and lived to tell about it.

“I threw it and got blindsided,” Vasquez said. “I just closed my eyes and hit the ground hard. My head banged again. Surprisingly, I got back up. It kinda hurt. It took my air a little bit.

“I know coach Rohrer saw it and he took me out for a play. He asked me `Are you good?’ and I said `Yeah, I’m good, I’m good, I’m good.’ ”

Since Vasquez’s scary moment against Gladstone, the Warriors (8-2) have not lost a game. Last week, they clinched a share of the Montview League title and will host El Segundo in the first round of the Northwest Division playoffs on Friday night.

It may or may not be the last football game of Vasquez’s life. The three-year starter has never won a playoff game, so he knows just what type of an opportunity lays directly ahead.

But win or lose, Vasquez has already proven everything he needs to. And the game capable of teaching players and coaches so many lessons already has done just that in the case of the Warriors this season.

“A lot of people checked on me and I thanked them,” Vasquez said. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be right now. Even the quarterback from Gladstone (Kevin Amezquita) messaged me on Facebook to see how I was doing. When I saw that, it just helped me more.

“And everyone in this school just came to me with open arms and helped me through it. This year has been the best year I’ve ever had with these teammates. It felt like the injury I got changed the whole mentality of us.”

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Randy Horton resigns as head coach at Pasadena …

Randy Horton has resigned as varsity football head coach at Pasadena after three seasons.

Horton went 11-21 in this three seasons, including a 1-9 record this season. His best season came in 2011 when Pasadena went 6-6 and won a playoff game.

“It’s time for me to move on to another level,” Horton said late Monday. “I want to go back to college.”

Horton was an assistant strength and conditioning coach in charge of all speed and agility drills at UCLA in 2007. He played corner back and free safety at Oregon State. Horton later played in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts.

Much of the Bulldogs’ struggles this season came due to injuries, most notably one to Utah-bound quarterback Brandon Cox, who missed most of the season with an injured foot.

Aram’s take: Tough luck for Horton this season not having Cox. It’s hard to tell what will become of PHS’s program. La Salle is gaining steam, Muir has stabilised with John Hardy at the helm and Alemany (among others) continues to pillage the talent-rich city for all it’s worth. However, you have to wonder if somebody like a Greg Gano could put a stop to all that and turn that thing around. Just a thought …