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Centurions face Vikings in battle of league unbeatens

Saugus and Valencia look for rare Foothill championship on Friday

Posted: November 6, 2008 10:27 p.m.
Updated: November 7, 2008 4:55 a.m.
Led by quarterback Desi Rodriguez, left, and running back Ryan Zirbel, the Saugus Centurions are this close to a Foothill League championship. Led by quarterback Desi Rodriguez, left, and running back Ryan Zirbel, the Saugus Centurions are this close to a Foothill League championship.
Led by quarterback Desi Rodriguez, left, and running back Ryan Zirbel, the Saugus Centurions are this close to a Foothill League championship.
Signal Staff Report

As much as the media may bring up the past, Valencia and Saugus football are two programs that are trying to stay in the present.

Not surprising considering the strength of both Foothill League teams this year.

But the past tells us a lot about tonight's matchup between Saugus and Valencia at Dr. Paul A. Priesz Stadium - most notably each team's past.

Saugus was three points away last season from clinching its first ever Foothill League title.

A 24-21 loss to a then undefeated Hart team spoiled the Centurions chances of taking the top spot.

"That's one of things we do a good job of, respecting those that have come before us," said Saugus head coach Jason Bornn. "We don't dwell. It's a different dynamic and different group of kids."

Valencia (7-1, 3-0) wore the crown for the only time in school history in 2004 and hasn't been near its current position since 2005 when it challenged eventual champion Canyon late in the season.

"We're here and now," said Valencia head coach Larry Muir.

Simple words, but the fact is this could be the game that determines the eventual league champion with both teams 3-0.

Both Saugus (5-3, 3-0) and Valencia will be favorites next week against their respective opponents.

"There's a lot on the line," Muir said. "League standings, playoff seedings. But (Saugus) has also had our number the last couple of years."

Saugus has won the last two contests, including last season's 34-19 victory.

The Centurions sacked then Vikings quarterback Graham Wilbert an astounding 11 times. That's why Muir said this game will be decided in the trenches.

Overall defensively, Muir said Saugus plays fast and will fill up the box to add pressure.

The questions about the Centurions coming into the season, though, lied within their defense because of a lack of experience.

It was Saugus' formidable defense last year that helped catapult the Centurions to arguably their best season ever.

Despite some early struggles, the Centurions have made significant strides on the defensive side of the ball.

"The defense has started to understand what they need to do on game night," Bornn said.

But it's no secret what has made Saugus so dominant this season - the one-two punch of quarterback Desi Rodriguez and running back Ryan Zirbel. Bornn, though, credits Zirbel and Rodriguez's success to the offensive line.

Hart vs. West Ranch
As the season comes to a close and every game brings do-or-die playoff implications, few might have predicted that when Hart and West Ranch faced off at College of the Canyons, the Indians' season would hang in the balance.

After a tumultuous start to the season, the Indians rebounded two weeks ago with a critical win over long-time rival, Canyon, but there is still work to do.

With the third place and a trip to the postseason still up for grabs, Hart and West Ranch are two of the teams with their sights set.

"They run the ball well and throw the ball well with their big quarterback," said Hart head coach Mike Herrington. "We need to play solid defense and tackle. We've had trouble with that this year so we need to execute."

Behind quarterback Jake Bernards, running back Trent Yokofich and wide receiver Frankie Madero, the Wildcats have the offensive weapons to compete with the Indians, whose defense has given up just over 31 points per game.

If Hart loses this game it would be the first time the team finished .500 or worse since 1980. Should the Indians fail to make the playoffs, it would be the only such time during Herrington's 20-year tenure.

The team has gone through an evolution since the beginning of the season, particularly at the quarterback position. Much has been made about Spenser Souza's transition from wide receiver to signal caller.

The impact of his success is evident. Not only do his statistics reflect his growing comfort behind center, but his poise in the pocket and ability to lead his team on game-changing drives were on display in the win over the Cowboys.

Throwing for 205 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another, the senior quarterback carried his team offensively.

Souza is not without his playmakers.

Junior running back Jake Stephens burst onto the scene when senior Demitri Diamond went down with injury. Now healthy, the one-two punch of Diamond and Stephens will try to wear down the Wildcats defense.

Canyon vs. Golden Valley
It was around this time last year that Canyon's hopes of making it to the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs had diminished.

The team lost its third game in the Foothill League to Valencia on Nov. 9 ending its season just shy of a final playoff berth.

Ironically, the Cowboys find themselves in the same position this year.

But this time, their hopes for a playoff spot are still alive.

After losses to Saugus and Hart, Canyon finds itself in a must-win situation. One loss in the Foothill League can prove harmful, but two losses almost assures an early end to the season.

There's no more room for error.

The team will take on league winless Golden Valley tonight at Harry Welch Stadium.

Although the Grizzlies have struggled mightily, head coach Chris Varner said at this point his team cannot afford to overlook anyone.

"Golden Valley is better than they have been in years past," Varner said. "The defense is solid and we have to take them seriously. But of course we have Saugus on our minds."

Injuries to key players have been the downfall to the Cowboys all season. Canyon's defense, especially, has taken the most hits.

Fullback/defensive tackle Chris Reed, a Crespi transfer, is out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury.

Defensive end Donovan Brownlee went down with a broken leg in an early season matchup against Granada Hills. Dylan Kawaa and Lash LaRue have nagging shoulder injuries.

Wide receiver Charlie Cusumano's status is day-to-day after suffering an ankle injury in the matchup against Valencia.

But Varner said he can't blame the team's shortcomings on injuries. The work has to get done regardless of the circumstances.

"All we can control is how we play the next few games," he said. "We have to rebound and not let the losses dictate the rest of our play."

As far as his outlook for the rest of the season, Varner is optimistic.

"Every Foothill League game is a playoff game," he said. "We have to go and have some fun and do what we have to do."


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