The undefeated Steele Canyon Cougars are apparently a decided underdog against top-ranked visitor Helix on Friday night.
As I’ve learned to say, “don’t @ me.”
The stakes are of the highest possible reward for a high school football player in San Diego County when the teams meet on Campo Road at 7 p.m.
To the victor will go the Grossmont Hills League championship, a proclamation that any player would cherish for a lifetime. Additionally, the winner secures a spot in the San Diego CIF’s Open Division’s final four championship playoff, the next step in claiming the trophy as the section’s best team.
A disturbing question will be the consolation prize for the team that is on the short end of the East County’s Game of the Year.
Will the team that falls short of its first championship goal still be invited to the elite division’s playoff semifinals?
If you are a follower of the local prep scene, the answer seems to be what you might expect.
For the 8-1 Highlanders, it is quite possible that they could still earn the No. 4 spot in the bracket should they lose to the Cougars for the second consecutive year.
That, of course, is hardly out of the question after Steele Canyon stunned Helix in last year’s season finale in La Mesa, causing a rare three-way tie for the title.
For the Cougars, who have won nine straight games for the first time in the program’s 18-year history, a defeat will likely only offer the consolation as the top-seed in the Division I playoffs.
Steele Canyon, who was third in the section’s seeding formula before last Friday’s 58-3 thumping of the Grossmont Foothillers, is the only unbeaten team in the section’s highest division.
However, the team’s strength of schedule could be the determining factor in its playoff placement along with Carlsbad and St. Augustine, which were fourth and fifth, respectively, before last Friday’s unsurprising results.
The Cougars defeated the Hillers with precision on Grossmont’s Senior night, as Steele Canyon senior Chris Carter threw an 80-yard touchdown pass, had a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown and rushed for a 37-yard score, while SC junior quarterback Elia Kirisimasi passed for 168 yards and two touchdowns in his first varsity start in place of injured senior Jeremy Mendez-Gal (finger), who will likely be healed in time for the postseason.
“Elia stepped in, probably a little nervous, getting his first start in a big league matchup but I had a ton of confidence in him,” Steele Canyon head coach Scott Longerbone said. “He battled Jeremy through the summer and right into the preseason, so I knew he had the ability. It was just a matter of getting in there and doing it, and he proved that he could. I am immensely proud of Elia.”
The Cougars offensive line paved the way for a Grossmont-like 526 yards of total offense behind the line of seniors James Bradle, Ulolo Samoata, and Darrin Roldan, junior Isaac Hernandez and Logan Hicks.
Steele Canyon (9-0, 4-0 Grossmont Hills League) has the county’s second-best defensive unit in points allowed but surely is underrated compared to the perennial top programs.
That could change with the emergence of senior Viliamu-Ah-You “Rugby” Morse, who had his school-record 11th sack in the win and shouldn’t be overlooked on county defensive player of the year lists.
And Steele Canyon’s special teams have returned to last year’s form and to the Chinese buffet, as well, as a reward for reaching the end zone for the fifth time in the last three games.
“Our special teams have been on fire for the last three weeks,” Longerbone said. “All phases of the game are clicking.”
Helix (8-1, 4-0 Grossmont Hills League) reached this point by pulling away from Granite Hills’ challenge last Friday in a 49-27 win at Hart Stadium.
Senior Keionte Scott, a sudden Division I prospect who moved back to San Diego this season after his previous program in Las Vegas was making the transition to 8-man football this year, caught three touchdowns in the first half, while sophomore Christian Washington, who has been terrific in stepping in for injured senior Elelyon Noa, rushed for three touchdowns in the second half and finished with 183 yards for the game.
The Eagles proved to be a tough opponent and closed to within one score in the third quarter, which certainly could bring the Highlanders concern considering last year’s home loss to this Steele Canyon team, which appears to match up more evenly in the upcoming contest than the projections would suggest.
“Helix is a phenomenal program,” Longerbone said. “I have a ton of respect for them as a school. I coached over there for eight years, so I know the tradition and I know the history behind the program. I think (Highlander head coach) Robbie (Owens) has done a great job. What a great matchup.”
In last year’s game, the Cougars won, 22-21, for their first win over Helix in nine years, breaking the Scotties’ 19-game league winning streak and knocking the Highlanders out of Open Division playoff contention. Steele Canyon secured a share of its first league title in 13 years.
Chance Johnson had a critical punt in the fourth quarter and Wesley Neely III had two scores, including the decisive touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Both seniors will be in uniform on Friday night, but Noa, who rushed for 274 yards in the game, is out for the remainder of the year with a foot injury. Helix senior Delshawn Traylor had an 8-yard touchdown run in the matchup and has scored seven rushing touchdowns this season.
MONTE VISTA (5-4, 3-0 GVL) at WEST HILLS (6-3, 2-1 GVL) – The Grossmont Valley League will have a championship-deciding game on the final night of the season, as well, but only the defending champion Monte Vista Monarchs can claim on banner outright.
The Monarchs had five different players score touchdowns in a 35-0 shutout at El Cajon Valley on Friday night. Senior Frederico Villanueva Jr. recorded his third interception in the last two games, returning it for an 85-yard touchdown in the win.
For the Wolf Pack, a victory would secure a share of the league title. The pair would possibly finish in a three-way tie for first should Santana defeat El Cajon Valley in Santee, also on Friday.
West Hills senior brothers Kole and Kip Klingerman combined for three touchdown receptions in a 28-27 GVL win over host Mount Miguel last Friday night.
Senior slotback Steven Cristini, who had 67 yards rushing, had four catches, including the decisive touchdown catch, and also recorded an interception.
Pack senior Nick Rodrigues had a sack against the Matadors.
Last season, this matchup determined the outright Valley champ when both teams came in 3-0, however, the Monarchs dominated after a scoreless first quarter, scoring a 35-0 win behind Jahmon McClendon’s five touchdowns for their first league title in 14 years.
Monte Vista leads the all-time series, 11-6.
CHRISTIAN (5-4, 2-1 Eastern) at LA JOLLA (5-4, 3-0 Eastern) – The Patriots will play for a share of the Eastern League championship against the host Vikings on Friday night.
Christian High traveled over 550 miles to play in a stiff tuneup last Friday, falling to Fernley High, of Nevada, 45-30, despite three touchdowns by senior running back Nate Stine. Fernley led 31-10 at halftime.
Junior quarterback Gabe Krug has 387 yards of total offense, including 228 yards through the air and a pair of touchdown passes. Patriot senior Todd Beezer had 11 receptions in the contest for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Christian won the meeting last season, 49-0, but this year’s Pats are learning on the fly. A win could also gain the Patriots a bye in the first round of the Division II playoffs. The Vikings are playing for a top-four seed in Division III.
The Vikings have already secured at least a share of its first title since 1995 in the Western League. La Jolla has an evenly-balanced offense, led by junior Max Smith and sophomore Makai Smith, who have combined for 13 touchdowns on the season.
GROSSMONT (6-3, 2-2 GHL) at EL CAPITAN (1-8, 1-3 GHL) – The Foothillers make their farthest road trip of the regular season when they make the 8 1/2-mile trip to Lakeside for the league finale.
Grossmont, which got a 26-yard field goal in the loss to Steele Canyon by senior Axel Gonzalez for his East County-leading seventh three-pointer of the season, will likely host a home game in the first round of the Division I playoffs.
Despite last week’s 28-20 loss to Valhalla, El Capitan could still earn a playoff berth with an upset. Senior quarterback Wick Hauser passed for touchdowns to Kalen Lavallais and Sean Dickson against the Norsemen. Senior Donny Green rushed for the other score.
El Cap dropped a 49-21 decision in the season-ender at Grossmont last October as Foothiller quarterback Jaime Odom, who recently moved into ninth place on the all-time section total offense list, threw four touchdown passes.
Lavallais and then-sophomore Taylor Grasmick combined for 71 yards of total offense in last year’s matchup for the Vaqueros, who have dropped four in a row to the Hillers.
VALHALLA (4-5, 1-3 GHL) at GRANITE HILLS (4-5, 2-2 GHL) – The Norsemen got 154 yards and three touchdowns from senior running back Kegan Baker in the home win over the Vaqueros last Friday.
Valhalla, which also got a 37-yard touchdown run from Josh Meredith, will surely be headed to the playoffs regardless of this outcome but so are the Eagles with their automatic qualification in Division I.
Granite Hills junior quarterback Justus McComb led the comeback against the Highlanders, finishing with 307 yards passing and touchdown tosses to senior James Johnson, junior Matt Keeley, and freshman Jaylen Hall.
The Eagles won last year’s meeting, 43-0, but the Norsemen went winless and Granite was driving for a fourth-straight league championship. Jacob Setterberg caught a pair of touchdowns in the win last year, while Johnson and Carlos DeLeon also had TD receptions.
EL CAJON VALLEY (3-6, 0-3 GVL) at SANTANA (8-1, 2-1 GVL) – The Sultans, who are coming off their bye week, are likely headed to the playoffs as the top seed in Division IV.
Two weeks ago, the Sultans’ season-long winning streak was stopped at the hands of Monte Vista. A week earlier, they finally swiped the Mayor’s Cup from West Hills.
Now, with a win over the Braves, combined with a Wolf Pack win over the Monarchs, Santana could still grab a share of that long-awaited league championship with the two teams.
In other words, the Sultans’ ultimate goals of league and section championships can still be accomplished.
Senior quarterback Nathan Temple had a rushing touchdown on the Sultans’ first series against the Monarchs, but that was just about that last noise they made for the rest of the game.
The Braves were blanked by the Monarchs last week, although Damarius Hyde rushed for 128 yards against a good Monte Vista defense. El Cajon Valley, despite its league losing streak, is a sure postseason qualifier in Division V.
DEL NORTE (2-7) at MOUNT MIGUEL (4-5) – All eyes – including those of the Nighthawk defensive backs – will be on Mount Miguel senior wide receiver Jahiem Allen-Pompey and his climb up the national leaderboard and section record books.
All Allen-Pompey did last Friday night against the Wolf Pack was catch 16 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. Immediately after the disappointing 28-27 loss, the talented star was featured as a live studio guest on the local prep football highlights show.
With 1,653 yards on the season, Allen-Pompey reportedly leads the nation in receiving by nearly 300 yards heading into the final game of the regular season.
The all-time Grossmont Conference leader in receiving yards could still set local circuit records in receptions and receiving touchdowns as Mount Miguel is a certainty to make the Division IV playoffs. He currently has 85 receptions and 18 touchdowns.
Matador junior quarterback J.D. Laverdiere finished with 255 yards against West Hills had has 2,734 yards on the year with 25 touchdowns. Junior Anthony Mitchell had 82 yards of total offense, while junior Kojo Miller added five receptions.
Del Norte’s record shouldn’t be overlooked by the Matadors. Despite going winless in the Palomar League, DNHS beat Eastern champ La Jolla. The Nighthawks could qualify for the postseason with a road victory here over the higher-ranked division foe.