Mid-Valley: If you thought San Dimas and Azusa would meet in the semifinals when the season started, you were just joking, right?

By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
The winner of Friday’s CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division semifinal between No. 3 Azusa (11-1) and No. 2 San Dimas (11-1) will make history by sending one of the schools to its first championship game ever. This is already the deepest into the playoffs the Aztecs have advanced in school history, and it comes at a time when many thought this would be a rebuilding year for both schools. To continue reading, click thread

The Saints lost the running back trio of Daniel Joseph, Erek Brown and Nico Barbone – a backfield that averaged a combined 340 yards a game in leading the Saints to the second round.

Azusa also advanced to the second round last year behind one of its best senior classes in history led by third-year starting quarterback Adrian Gaeta and receiver Rauley Zaragosa.

But both schools picked up right where they left off, which is a credit to the coaching staffs.

“It’s really a good story,” San Dimas coach Bill Zernickow said. “The last time we were in the semifinals was 1999. Our kids have done a good job following the program and doing what we have asked them to do, and the same can be said about Azusa. They’re having another terrific season.”

The Aztecs, however, figure to be huge underdogs.

CalPreps listed San Dimas as 14-point favorites, partly because of the Aztecs’ light schedule. With the exception of Friday’s semifinal 27-24 victory over San Marino, none of the Aztecs’ nonleague wins were against teams with winning records.

A win over San Dimas not only would send the Aztecs into the finals, it would be a huge leap in area credibility.

“There’s some truth to that. If we can get a win this week, it sets the bar even higher and shows that two years of hard work is paying off,” Aztecs coach Joe Scherf said. “We have a bunch of kids who don’t think they can lose. They’re not intimidated by anyone. And the recognition we’re finally getting is great.

“Hopefully more kids will want to stay in our district instead of going other places, which has been a problem for a long time.”

Zernickow doesn’t doubt their credentials.

“They have won 10 games in a row,” he said. “You have to be pretty good to do that.”

The Aztecs have been a difficult team to prepare for.

Sometimes they lean on quarterback John Chavez, who has thrown for 1,440 yards and 12 touchdowns. Other times they turn to running back Kendrec McDade, averaging 100 yards a game, along with Jacob Martinez and Steven Blount, who help the Aztecs’ running game average almost 200 yards a game.

“People think they’re a spread team but they like to run the ball,” Zernickow said. “When they came out against San Marino, they had two tight ends and three backs. Our game plan is to not let them run the ball.”

Zernickow also knows the Aztecs can switch it up.

“If they feel they can run it on you they will run it,” he said. “If they feel they have to pass they will pass. But we can’t let ourselves go down against a running team. We’re going to focus everything on that running back (McDade). We might not even have a safety.”

San Dimas senior linebacker/tight end Juston Winrow has been playing extremely well for the Saints and had a big game in their second-round 37-14 win over Cerritos Valley Christian.

“He’s a player of the year candidate,” Zernickow said. “He has manhandled everyone we have seen since Bonita. He had four sacks against the best offensive line (Cerritos Valley Christian) that we have seen all year. Against Baldwin park he ate them up.

“He’s playing tight end for us too, but as far as a dominating presence he’s it for us right now. We love what he’s doing.”

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