Valhalla, West Hills get passing grades in preseason football tune-up

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The ninth annual South County passing tournament wrapped up Saturday, July 11, with championship playoffs at Southwestern College. Thirty-two teams participated in the two-day tournament that got under way on Friday, July 10.

East County teams excelled, with the Valhalla Norsemen and West Hills Wolf Pack both advancing as far as the championship semifinals.

Valhalla lost to eventual tournament champion Madison while West Hills lost to eventual tournament runner-up St. Augustine.

The ninth annual South County passing tournament wrapped up Saturday, July 11, with championship playoffs at Southwestern College. Thirty-two teams participated in the two-day tournament that got under way on Friday, July 10.

East County teams excelled, with the Valhalla Norsemen and West Hills Wolf Pack both advancing as far as the championship semifinals.

Valhalla lost to eventual tournament champion Madison while West Hills lost to eventual tournament runner-up St. Augustine.

Both coaches—Valhalla’s Charles Bussey and West Hills’ Casey Ash—were pleased by their team’s performances in the preseason event.

Both the Norsemen and Wolf Pack played seven games over the two-day span, including four playoff games on the second day.

“I’m ecstatic because we were without our varsity quarterback for the playoffs,” Bussey explained. “We played strong.”

“It’s hard to get this far in any tournament,” Ash acknowledged.

Teams each played three round-robin pool games on the opening day of competition. West Hills was one of seven teams in the tournament field that went 3-0 while Valhalla went 1-1-1.

After the opening day of play, teams were seeded first through 32nd for the opening playoff round the next day. The 16 winning teams advanced to single-elimination bracket play in the championship division while the 16 losing teams advanced to single-elimination play in the consolation bracket.

West Hills defeated El Cajon Valley, Sweetwater and Murrieta Mesa in pool play and defeated Murrieta Mesa’s JV team in the opening playoff round.

West Hills then defeated Eastlake to kick off bracket play and followed with a quarterfinal win over Lincoln to advance to the semifinals against St. Augustine.

Valhalla edged Castle Park in the opening playoff round to earn a spot in the winners bracket. The Norsemen then defeated Murrieta Mesa’s varsity team to advance to the quarterfinals where they defeated neighborhood rival Steele Canyon.

Bryan Madriz led Valhalla in the team’s four playoff games to close the tournament.

“He stepped up and played well,” Bussey said. “He’s going to be a sophomore. That was good to see him perform so well.”

Bussey said the quarterfinal win over the Cougars was a big boost for his team. Valhalla trailed Steele Canyon, 12-2, before rallying to win 22-19.

“That was a fun one,” the Norsemen coach noted. “We get to see those guys all summer. The kids know each other. There’s a lot of cheering.”

Top returners include senior linebackers Logan Baker, Cade Baker and Trey Schimke, senior quarterback Phillip Naseh, senior defensive end Daniel Bender, junior running back Jerome Johnson, junior offensive linemen Tyler Eastlick and Lim Clingan and senior offensive lineman Ryan Burke.

High school teams start training camps in August. The Norsemen will scrimmage Sweetwater at home on Aug. 21. The regular season kicks off Aug. 28 when Valhalla plays a non-league game at Otay Ranch.

Bussey believes his team is poised to build significantly on last year’s 4-7 record.

“I’m looking forward to it,” the VHS coach said. “We graduated two starters on defense. Our defense should be solid. We return three offensive linemen, our running back and quarterback, so there’s a pretty good foundation for the center of the offense. We bring almost everyone back on defense. I think we’re back on the upswing.”

The Norsemen will compete in the Grossmont Hills League alongside Helix, El Capitan, Mount Miguel, Grossmont and Steele Canyon.

El Capitan won last year’s San Diego Section Division II championship while Helix placed second to Oceanside in the Open Division championship game.

“Helix is always at the top,” Bussey explained. “They’re always tough. After Helix, it’s up in the air, though.”

West Hills won last year’s Grossmont Valley League title en route to a final 9-3 finish. Ash picks Granite Hills as the team to beat for this year’s league title.

“They return a strong defense,” Ash said in regard to Granite Hills, which finished 9-4 last season.

The Wolf Pack certainly displayed some championship mettle in this year’s South County passing tournament, however. West Hills finished 6-1, winning its first six games before dropping the semifinal contest to St. Augustine.

Ash noted that quarterback Spencer Moyer went the entire tournament without throwing an interception.

“The receivers did a great job of catching the ball,” Ash said. “They didn’t have many drops. We also played some timely defense.”

This is Ash’s second head coaching stint with the Wolf Pack. His first stint started in 2007 when West Hills won a league championship. He won another league title in his return last year.

Overall, Ash has been either a head coach or assistant coach at West Hills for 15 years.

Top returners for the Wolf Pack in 2015 include Moyer, slotback/corner back Taj Broomfield, tight end/defensive end Austin Estrada and linemen Richard Imbimbo, Dominic Tufi and Marco Fowler.

Moyer threw for 2,136 yards and 19 touchdowns last season while Broomfield had 41 catches for 605 yards and five TDs.

“We expect to be good in the lines,” Ash said. “We have some experience there. We think we have a kid who could be a college recruit at quarterback. We hope we can throw the ball a lot. We’re excited about all the JV kids who are coming up.”

West Hills kicks off regular season play with an Aug. 28 game at Mission Bay High School. The Wolf Pack scrimmages Steele Canyon Aug. 21 in Jamul.

The Southwestern College football program presents the South County high school football tournament annually. SWC head coach Ed Carberry said it “gives high school teams a chance to come together, with more of an emphasis on practice and working rather than winning.”

 “This is the type of venue where teams can test their skills against other teams,” Carberry explained. “It gives everyone an affordable opportunity to get in a good workout with a guarantee of five games in a short period of time.”

Despite the emphasis on throwing the football, the tournament also benefits the defensive aspect of play, Carberry said.

“A lot of teams don’t throw the ball a lot during the regular season, so it’s a benefit to teams to look at their defensive formations,” Carberry said.

Carberry called this year’s tournament field “very competitive,” with seven teams sporting 3-0 records after the first day of competition.

Joining Christian and Madison with 3-0 marks were Steele Canyon, West Hills, Mater Dei Catholic, Castle Park and Olympian high schools.

Christian received the No. 1 seed for the playoffs, followed by Madison with the No. 2 seed.

Christian defeated Mount Miguel in its opening playoff game before being stalled in dramatic fashion in the quarterfinals by St. Augustine.

Steele Canyon defeated Sweetwater in the opening round of the playoffs while Grossmont defeated Kearny. Steele Canyon defeated Hilltop to improve to 5-0 before losing to Valhalla in the quarterfinals while Grossmont bowed out of the tournament following a loss to Madison.

Madison finished the tournament 7-0 while St. Augustine finished 7-1. The Warhawks defeated the Saints, 47-19, in the championship division game.

Castle Park defeated Las Vegas Cheyenne, 34-14, to win the consolation bracket.

“It was great to see fresh faces out there, other teams improving,” Carberry said. “It was exciting. Saints beat Christian on the last play of the game with one second to play when they snapped it and scored a 40-yard touchdown. Madison was lightning in a bottle.”

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