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Foothill football: The deciding factors

There’s a lot of offense in the Foothill, but defense could win a team a title

Posted: October 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Malik Townsend and defending Foothill League champions Vikings, enter league with an idential 2-3 record to what the 2011 team started league play with. Malik Townsend and defending Foothill League champions Vikings, enter league with an idential 2-3 record to what the 2011 team started league play with.
Malik Townsend and defending Foothill League champions Vikings, enter league with an idential 2-3 record to what the 2011 team started league play with.

The discussion begins with three Foothill League football teams.

Hart, Canyon and Valencia are all considered title favorites going into tonight’s league openers.

The simple reason is offense, offense and offense.

The public knew going into the season that these three teams had the capability to light up a scoreboard.

The thinking on West Ranch, Saugus and Golden Valley was that it would take five games to get a read on what those teams could do.

And thus far, all three aren’t scoring points nearly at the rate of the other three.

So the Foothill League title will be decided by?

Defense — of course.

“I would think so,” said Canyon head coach Rich Gutierrez on if defense will be the deciding factor. “You hear about (Hart’s Connor) Wingenroth, Brady White, Trent Irwin, (Davis) Koppenhaver, and (Valencia’s) Tedrick Thompson and (Saugus’) Chris Hamilton. Everyone talks about the offense. It’s the highlight. But it comes down to defense. If you get stops, it allows the offense to pound the pedal.”

Defense hasn’t been the league’s staple this year.

Teams are scoring an average of 26.3 points per game against Foothill League teams, with Canyon giving up a league-high 38.4 points per contest.

There’s no doubt that Hart can score, and thus far the Indians have been the league’s best team.

The question marks going into the season were whether sophomore Brady White could be an effective quarterback in his first varsity season and whether the Hart defense could stop other teams.

White has shown a poise beyond his years and the defense is a league best, allowing just 12.2 points per contest.

Hart’s predicted strength coming into this season was seen as its skill players and offensive line.

Herrington said those skill players, Player of the Year candidate and junior running back Connor Wingenroth and receivers like Trent Irwin and Wes Fitzpatrick, have been his best collection of players.

And the offense hasn’t even peaked, despite scoring 49 points per game in its last four contests.

Despite four straight blowout wins, Hart head coach Mike Herrington said his team has not played a complete game, and the offense could be better.

“I think it could be very good,” Herrington said of his offense. “I think we have a lot of weapons.”

Hart is the No. 1 team in the Northern Division.

The No. 7 team in the division is 2-3 Valencia.

The Vikings have been inconsistent, but have shown a lot of promise on both sides of the ball.

“We need to get more consistent,” said Valencia head coach Larry Muir. “It’s gotten better, but it’s not quite at the level we want to be.”

Valencia started last year at 2-3 and eventually won the Foothill League title.

Last year, the defense carried the Vikings.

Their strength coming into this year was seen as their wide receivers and that’s been the case, with juniors Malik Townsend and Nick Jones stepping to the forefront.

Valencia quarterback Sean Murphy has blossomed and threw 10 touchdowns in a span of two games on Sept. 14 and 21.

The Vikings defense has seen strong play from numerous individuals, but the defensive line is banged up going into Foothill play.

Canyon meanwhile has struggled mightily on defense and special teams.

The Cowboys are 0-1-1 after starting 3-0 and are ranked 10th in the division.

The defense has had trouble stopping the run and the pass, and Gutierrez acknowledged how his team might have to win some shootouts to win the Foothill title.

But still, it will come down to the Cowboys getting some stops.

“It’s the little things,” he said of repairing the defense. “Go back on the little things — tackling, we went old school and started to simplify what they were doing schematically.”

Offense has not been an issue as Cade Apsay, another first-year varsity player, has arguably been the best rookie in the league.

He has nearly 1,600 passing yards and 18 touchdowns and has spread the ball around to numerous players — not just Drew Wolitarsky, who is 40 receptions and 50 yards short of breaking state all-time records in those categories.

Despite West Ranch starting 1-4, head coach Sean O’Brien thinks his team is in the best position its ever been coming into league play.

“I think there is no game on our schedule that’s unwinnable,” said West ranch head coach Sean O’Brien. “A couple of years ago, I couldn’t have said that. There is no game we look at and say, ‘In order to win this one the other team has to give us the game.’”

O’Brien firmly believes that his team is a title contender.

The Wildcats had arguably the toughest preleague schedule, playing teams with a .654 winning percentage.

They nearly knocked off Western Division power St. Francis, and despite stellar play from wide receiver Rawston Redick and running backs Zahr Lyttle and Mark Collins, the team is only scoring 16.4 points per game.

That’s a reason why the Wildcats might be at a disadvantage.

But O’Brien said he’s seen growth on both sides of the ball that gives him a lot of optimism going forward.

At Saugus, very little has gone right after a season-opening 18-15 victory over Calabasas.

The Centurions have done what head coach Jason Bornn had promised and opened up the passing game.

But a couple of factors have hurt the Cents (1-4) this far — youth and injuries.

Returning league lineman of the year Denley Rodriguez missed the season’s first three games, and quarterback Chris Hamilton has missed the last two because of a concussion.

Both should play today.

“We have not been this healthy since Game 1,” Bornn said. “We’re not going to rely on youth as an excuse. The mistakes we made comes down to us. As coaches we have to find a way to communicate more effectively.”

If Saugus has a shot at the league title or even a postseason shot, it will need to get through the toughest part of its schedule right away — first Valencia, followed by Canyon, then Hart.

This is the year some people believe Golden Valley (0-5) could break through with its first-ever Foothill League win and some are thinking that the Grizzlies best chance could be against Saugus on Oct. 26.

One thing we learned in the preleague, Golden Valley is getting closer.

“I think we’re better than we’ve ever been going into league,” said Golden Valley head coach Robert Fisher. “I don’t think our record does us justice. I think going into league, this is the best team we’ve had at Golden Valley and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

The Grizzlies have had star running backs now three years in a row, as 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound senior Leon Jacobs has been a force.

He has 516 rushing yards.

The Grizzlies made a switch, sending Chase Lewis from quarterback to wide receiver and giving junior Robert Phillips the job.

But Fisher is especially impressed with a defense that kept it in its first three games.

And that’s the key to this Foothill League season.

With offensive power at the top, and low-scoring teams at the bottom, defense is a major factor this year.

Keep your team in the game, and the result could be victory more often than not.



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