“I’m not sure there’s a magic bullet to stop them. We just have to play better and hope we get some breaks. They’re pretty darn good. They’re awfully loaded with running backs. And probably their offense is the best we’ve faced in a couple years. — Bonita coach Eric Podley
By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
The memory of Bonita High School’s 55-21 loss to West Covina on Oct. 29, and how it happened, still burns bright for Bearcats football coach Eric Podley. That night, the Bearcats were beaten badly by West Covina’s big-play potential and a lack of cash-in opportunities when they had the ball deep in Bulldogs territory. It added up to an uncharacteristic loss from which Bonita has bounced back with five consecutive wins and a rematch with West Covina in Friday’s 7 p.m. CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division championship game at Walnut High.
Following Saturday’s semifinal win over La Serna, Podley immediately went to work on figuring out a way to flip the scoreboard on West Covina and come away with Bonita’s first CIF-SS title since 1999.
“I’m not sure there’s a magic bullet to stop them,” he said. “We just have to play better and hope we get some breaks. They’re pretty darn good.
“They’re awfully loaded with running backs. And probably their offense is the best we’ve faced in a couple years.”
It wasn’t just that the Bulldogs’ Chris Solomon ran for 190 yards and three scores on Oct. 29 that hurt Bonita. West Covina also had two kickoff returns for touchdowns and ran back an interception for a score.
Big plays have become customary for the Bulldogs, thanks to a collection of explosive athletes. Podley feels his team will have to do a better job of finishing drives and staying balanced on offense.
“We realize now and realized then that you’re going to have to come away with touchdowns because field goals are not going to be enough,” Podley said. “A pretty good amount of that (first) game was determined by how many points we were behind.
“That changes your strategy.”
Don’t expect Bonita to buy into the argument that it’s difficult to beat the same team twice in a season and, therefore, West Covina is in for a flat performance Friday. Podley said the Bearcats have had their best practices of the season this week and will be expecting nothing but West Covina’s best shot.
“I think it can be (difficult to beat the same team twice), but a lot of that depends on how West Covina approaches it,” Podley said. “I think they’ll be well-prepared and ready. They’re a well-coached, experienced team. I don’t expect to see them have a letdown.”
For Bonita, the championship is the reward and not this week’s motivation. The Bearcats were adamant that they didn’t give an accurate account of themselves on Oct. 29 and are hoping to prove that on Friday.
“I think our kids feel this is an opportunity to redeem a performance that we weren’t particularly pleased with,” Podley said. “Without question, we’re proud of the way they’ve bounced back.
“These guys do have a determination to be the best they can be. That’s the kind of character you’d expect to find in a champion.”