By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
It’s not often that El Monte High School is playing for the Mission Valley League football championship in Week 9, but that’s exactly the case for the Lions this season.
El Monte (4-4, 3-0) has won its first three league games to put itself in position to take over sole control of first place if the Lions can beat defending league champion Arroyo (7-1, 3-0) on Friday.
“It’s just exciting,” El Monte coach Joel Sanchez said. “It’s something we saw on our schedule, the way everything was going to lay itself out. We knew if we took care of business that we were going to have an opportunity in Week 4 (of league).”
Deciphering whether the Lions are legitimate challengers to Arroyo’s crown isn’t easy.
El Monte’s league schedule set up perfectly with the Lions playing the bottom three teams in league. Now games against traditional powers Arroyo and Rosemead await.
Nonetheless, it’s a pretty nice spot to be in considering El Monte was 1-9 last season. And with Friday’s game for first place, Arroyo coach Jim Singiser said El Monte has his full attention.
“You thought that (it was over) after we beat Rosemead,” Singiser said when asked if he was surprised his team still has a threat left on its schedule. “I was the one saying it wasn’t going to be that way, because I’ve been here before.
“El Monte is not a 1-9 team this year. I saw this coming. We’re not good enough, believe me, to take anybody lightly. There’s just too many variables.”
El Monte hasn’t beaten Arroyo since a 30-0 win in 1990. If the Lions are to end the streak, they’ll need another big game out of running back Michael Jimenez, who has 1,341 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
Aside from being shut out by Covina on Sept. 17, the Lions have had little trouble scoring this season. El Monte is averaging 25 points per game. But defense has been another story. The Lions are allowing 26 points per game and have to handle Arroyo’s one-two punch of quarterback Steven Rivera and running back Mikey Vasquez.
“They’re a typical Arroyo team,” Sanchez said. “They don’t make a lot mistakes, which is key. I don’t think they do anything where I say `Man, we’re not going to be able to stop this.’
“All their teams are kind of the same. They can always run and throw the ball, but they also always have those guys who are football savvy and they have that little bit of an edge on their opponents.”
El Monte’s best defense might be its offense, if the Lions can stay mistake-free and get Jimenez rolling while keeping the ball away from Rivera and Vasquez. At least that’s how Sanchez sees it.
“We have a running back who is able to run the ball on pretty much anybody we play this year,” Sanchez said. “It’s not like we have to shut teams out to win games. We can move the ball. We have a lot more weapons this year.”