“I think we’re better than (last year), so I hope we don’t get blown out 42-7 again. But those guys (Chino Hills) are good. We’re going to give it heck. It’s an important game and means a lot to us.” –– Damien coach Greg Gano
“They got some good transfers who have helped them out. Overall team speed, they’re a lot better. They’re a very good football team this year. And they were very good at the end of last year. You know, Damien helped us get into the playoffs last year.” — Chino Hills coach Derek Bub
By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
Damien High School’s football team had three payback games on its football schedule entering the season. Last season, the Spartans suffered identical 42-7 losses to Bishop Amat, JSerra and Chino Hills. So far, Damien has done a pretty good job proving it is much improved from a year ago. The Spartans played Amat close for a half before falling 28-7. They later beat JSerra and now seek revenge against Chino Hills on Friday in a critical Sierra League game for both teams. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Damien. (To continue click thread).
“I think we’re better than (last year), so I hope we don’t get blown out 42-7 again,” Damien coach Greg Gano said. “But those guys (Chino Hills) are good. We’re going to give it heck. It’s an important game and means a lot to us.”
Damien enters Friday’s game at 6-1 overall and 2-0 in league. Chino Hills (4-3) also is 2-0 in league, thus making the game critical to both teams’ league title and playoff hopes. Both teams still have games against Charter Oak (6-1, 2-0).
The Sierra League is considered to be one of the stronger leagues in the Valley, but it does not hold that same weight in the Inland Division. The second- and third-place teams from the league may face a difficult opponent on the road in the first round of the playoffs, and that’s something all league coaches are hoping to avoid.
“I think everybody knows that and it’s no secret that we’re in a division where the third-place team is going to get thrown to the dogs,”
Gano said. “So, what are you going to do? This is a big game.”
Damien certainly is much better than it was last year, but the jury still is out on Chino Hills, which rode a talented senior class all the way to Inland Division semifinals last season. The Huskies graduated two stellar offensive threats in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Nate Harris, but Gano isn’t ready to drop them a notch just yet.
“I know one thing, we’re a little bit better than we were last year,” Gano said. “I’m not going to say if they’re not as good as they were last year. They lost two great plays (Ekpre-Olomu and Harris), but up front they’re very good. And they’re very well-coached.”
Bracing for challenge
Damien’s improvements are not lost on Chino Hills coach Derek Bub, who said the Spartans’ team speed upgrades are very apparent in game films.
“They got some good transfers who have helped them out,” Bub said. “Overall team speed, they’re a lot better. They’re a very good football team this year. And they were very good at the end of last year.
“You know, Damien helped us get into the playoffs last year.”
The Huskies’ 4-3 record might not be sexy enough to warrant much attention, but Chino Hills’ nonleague schedule has proven to be one of the best around. Every team the Huskies faced in nonleague play has a winning record. There also are losses to top-notch teams in Tesoro and Redlands East Valley.
“We’ve really focused this year on making sure our kids understood that each game was going to make us better,” Bub said. “That really has been our goal. I would much rather that stuff get exposed in a nonleague game that doesn’t mean much than have it get exposed in a league game.
“We feel like our kids are prepared for a lot. We’ve gone against some great coaches and we knew going into the Sierra League we were going to go against some great coaches and kids.”
Chino Hills may not be as athletic as last year, but the Huskies own one of the biggest offensive line around and could give Damien and Charter Oak fits because of their size. Bub, like Gano, is well aware the loser Friday could have a very short playoff experience once the brackets come out.
“We’ve said here that we’ve started the playoffs right now,” Bub said.
“Every week you have to win, and we really feel that way. In the Sierra League, anytime you take a step back, and we did last year by losing in Week 6, you’re depending other people helping you out. And that’s not the position we want to be in. We really feel like every week we have to come out and play our style of football or else we’re going to be hoping on other teams.”