By Aram Tolegian
When told of the CalPreps.com prediction that had his team beating Rosemead 26-24 this week, El Monte coach Joel Sanchez was quick to jump on the projected good fortune. “I’ll take it and let’s not play the game,” Sanchez said. “I’ll take it, 26-24. Call it in. Let (coach Matt) Koffler know that they said we’re going to win, we’re calling it in and that I’ll take it.”
Area fans don’t need a computer to tell them that El Monte has played Rosemead tough in recent years. But getting over the top and getting a victory over the Panthers could be especially huge this season because the winner of Friday’s game has the inside track on playing favorite for the Mission Valley League title.
“I’ve been telling the kids that I’m excited for them and that I’ve been looking forward to it all summer,” Sanchez said. “What else could you ask for, to open up in league against Rosemead?
“How would you rather have it? It’s going to be a tough, physical game and I’m excited.”
El Monte is part of a quartet of teams that include South El Monte, Mountain View and Gabrielino, who are trying to make the league anything but its typical two-horse race between Arroyo and Rosemead.
The Lions enter Friday’s game coming off a nonleague slate that saw them finish 3-2. Rosemead is also 3-2. Last season, El Monte came up on the short end of a 42-29 shootout with the Panthers. The loss, which came in the final week of the season, kept the Lions out of the playoffs.
In 2007, the Lions stunned Rosemead by winning 17-16.
“We don’t want to start off 0-1 and saying we played a great game, but we lost,” Sanchez said. “We can’t afford to lose this game. I don’t lie to the kids. Rosemead is a good team and they’re going to be a good team every year as long as you have Koffler and those guys over there.
“Last year we went toe to toe with them, but when push came to shove at the end, and we needed to make a play, we didn’t and they won the game. I don’t expect anything different this year. I don’t expect them to come out and blow us out, and I don’t expect us to come out and blow them out. I expect a hard-nosed football game, back and forth.”