The event returned to San Diego over the weekend after one year off due to the pandemic and will be coming to Liberty High in Brentwood in Northern California this week. It’s great to see that the mission of the organizers remains laser-focused while on the field the big stories included state No. 5 Corona Centennial showing why it looks like a loaded team this season, out-of-state powerhouses flexing their muscles and the host school ramping it up into high gear vs. a quality opponent.
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Missing last year due to the pandemic, the Southern California games of the 2021 Honor Bowl held at Cathedral Catholic in San Diego over the weekend showed that the focus and purpose of displaying military sacrifice to young men who play high school football has not diminished. Saying it’s fun to go isn’t accurate due to the somber nature of the pre-game ceremonies, but it’s clearly worthwhile.
“This is truly one of the best events of the year,” said Cathedral Catholic head coach Sean Doyle. “It almost always leaves some of our kids in tears. We will be glad to host it as long as they want us.”
There were two games on Friday and two games on Saturday at Cathedral Catholic and unlike for the Northern California schedule there were no cancellations due to COVID-19 or other factors. In the Friday games, state No. 35 Oaks Christian of Westlake Village played perhaps the top team in Colorado (Valor Christian of Highlands Ranch) followed by state No. 13 Chaminade of West Hills meeting the host school, which had fallen from state No. 5 to No. 14 after a big loss to Centennial of Corona. On Saturday, state No. 23 Serra of Gardena played first, going up against American Fork of Utah and then it was the finale: state No. 5 Centennial vs. No. 6 Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth.
The schedule for next week’s Northern California games held at Liberty of Brentwood have had to be adjusted.
The Friday games were supposed to begin with Sutter of the Northern Section playing Campolindo of Moraga followed by the host school meeting Canyon Springs of North Las Vegas (Nevada). Sutter head coach Ryan Reynolds contacted the organizers as they were setting up at Cathedral Catholic, however, and said his team would have to withdraw due to contact tracing and COVID-19 issues. Then it was learned the next day on Friday that the head coach’s son at Canyon Springs had been killed in a shooting. Campolindo and Liberty then quickly agreed to play each other on Friday in what will now be a single-game night.
The Saturday games at Liberty remain on schedule (starting at 12 noon): Clovis East vs. Heritage of Brentwood, Pleasant Valley of Chico vs. Menlo-Atherton of Atherton and then Liberty of Bakersfield vs. Clayton Valley of Concord. The Liberty-Clayton Valley clash would have been between two teams in the State TOP 50, but Clayton Valley lost on Friday to Del Oro of Loomis and will have to drop out. Del Oro influencing things is only appropriate since the Honor Bowl began with the Golden Eagles in 2010.
Honor Bowl director Mark Soto and staff have always made building a battle cross at most games a focal point for pre-game ceremonies. And whether someone is liberal or conservative, if you don’t get a pit in your stomach or tingles up the spine anytime you see a Gold Star mom put the dog tags on that cross that her son was wearing when he was killed then you just aren’t human.
Soto also made it a point to recognize the 13 service members who were killed by a suicide car bomb in Afghanistan two weeks ago, especially since many of them are from California. Each soldier has their name read and then everyone in the crowd says the name out loud.
With respect to all that the games stand for, we’ll now turn our takeaways to the field.
Different Kind of Centennial
In seeing the super-charged, no-huddle, quick-play squads of head coach Matt Logan at Centennial of Corona over the years, it’s not usually the defense that one leaves the game thinking about the most. But the Huskies’ this season could have one of the best defenses they’ve ever had, close to even the 2008 group led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict that won the school’s only CIF state title (a win in the D1 final over De La Salle of Concord).
Sure, Centennial’s offense can score fast, but the reason the Huskies scored like they did in their 35-14 win over Sierra Canyon on Saturday is that the defense just kept forcing a very strong Trailblazers’ offense into too many three-and-outs. In the second half of a game that was tied at halftime, the Centennial defense gave up five yards, two yards, four yards and seven yards in four straight Sierra Canyon possessions. There was a 15-yard penalty on the next series, but the Trailblazers had -2 yards in six plays. That was followed by another three-and-out and by that time (midway in the fourth quarter) it was 35-14.
Junior running back Jayson Cortes rambled for 216 yards and two TDs and was named Centennial’s MVP. His best run was a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter in which he was finally brought down at the one-yard line. He then took it in for the touchdown on the next play.
“Our offense started slow today, but the defense held it down in the first half,” Cortes said. “We give them a big thanks and they were even better in the second half. We were more ready to help them out (in the second half).”
Centennial took a 21-14 lead in the third quarter on a 59-yard TD run by sophomore Cornell Hatcher, who was almost untouched going through a gaping hole created by the offensive line. The team’s other TD came on a pass from Carson Conklin to Malachi Riley. Conklin and Izzy Carter continued to share the quarterback role in Logan’s offense.
Notre Dame committed corner Jaden Mickey lived up to his reputation as one of the top defenders in the state both in coverage and coming up to help stop the run. Others on the defense who shined included junior DE Luke Conti (6-5, 260), senior DL Gavriel Lightfoot (6-3, 295) and senior LB Samarai Anderson (6-1, 210). Junior DB Aaron Williams, regarded as one of the top junior DBs in the state, had to be helped off the field after suffering a leg injury in the third quarter.
Sierra Canyon’s “Step-Up” Games
Building a program that can be competitive at the highest level of CIF Southern Section football has been the goal of head coach Jon Ellinghouse at Sierra Canyon for many years. Sure, winning a state title in D2-AA in 2017 at Sacramento State vs. Serra of San Mateo and trying win them but coming up short in losses to Liberty (Brentwood) and Central of Fresno (2019) stands as a big measure of success, but this is a school that has bigger goals than even that in many sports (especially boys and girls basketball).
With the new CIF Southern Section playoff format starting this year in which competitive equity will be used 100 percent to seed and place all teams into all playoff divisions after the regular season, Sierra Canyon wants to be in the highest division possible (top eight in D1) and get as high of a seeding as possible.
That’s why the team played 2019 CIF Open Division state champion St. John Bosco last spring (lost 42-21), why it played Centennial in the Honor Bowl and why the next game after a bye week coming up on Sept. 17 will be against state No. 3 Servite (Anaheim). There also will be a matchup on Oct. 1 vs. Mission Viejo.
“This is 100 percent big boy football,” Ellinghouse said. “We’ve shown we can play and compete with the best. We’re just here to win football games. We’ve still got big games coming up and we’ll just see what happens. If we deserve to be in Division I, we’ll have proved it.”
Sierra Canyon had one impressive 75-yard drive in the first half that was capped by a 15-yard TD pass from Daniel Duran to Dominic Arango-Serna. Sophomore LB/DB Carmel Crunk also made a name for himself with some big hits plus he took an interception back for a touchdown that sparked the 14-14 halftime score.
Injuries have been a big issue for the Trailblazers this season, too. Stanford-bound OL Kenji Swanson still hasn’t played this fall and most of the secondary was out vs. the Huskies. And then in the second half Sierra Canyon didn’t have all-state DB Kamari Ramsey.
Note: Ellinghouse was fine after the game and we hate to mention his health, but before the game there was a tweet that he was going to be missing the game due to an issue. He did have to have an issue checked out as he was watching the game before at the Honor Bowl, but was on the sidelines by the time of the pregame ceremonies. The reporters doing those tweets were doing their jobs, but someone who told them anything about Ellinghouse’s health should have stayed quiet. If he wasn’t there, it was significant. He was there so it didn’t matter.
Cathedral Catholic’s Bounce-Back
It’s doubtful that there are more than four or five teams in the entire state at the level of Corona Centennial this year, but Chaminade of West Hills is still one of the best in the CIF Southern Section so the host school really wanted to make a statement in its game against the Eagles on Friday night. Consider that done as the Dons rolled to a 50-17 win.
Head coach Sean Doyle’s squad scored with 27 seconds left before halftime to grab a 21-10 lead and then dominated in the third and fourth quarters.
“We wanted to prove that last week was a fluke,” said Doyle, whose team lost to Centennial 57-14 and fell from the No. 1 ranking in the CIF San Diego Section with Carlsbad moving up). “Centennial is incredible, but we’re also better than that.”
Running back Lucky Sutton didn’t play as much in the second half (cramps), but had 113 yards on 17 carries and scored three times. Quarterback Charlie Mirer also had one of his best games leading an offense that surged for 555 yards. His 52-yard pass to Rex Haines with 50 seconds left in the second quarter led to his own 1-yard sneak with 27 seconds left.
After the first two series of the third quarter, sandwiched around a punt by Chaminade, the Dons turned their 21-10 lead into a 34-10 advantage on a 9-yard run by Sutton and then a 67-yard bomb from Mirer to Haynes.
Chaminade, which opened the season with wins against Oaks Christian and Birmingham of Lake Balboa and had risen to No. 13 in the state, tied the score at 7-7 in the first quarter on a 38-yard TD pass from junior Indiana Wijay to Josh Mailender. The Eagles took a 10-7 lead in the second quarter on a 26-yard field goal by Ryon Sayeri. They were outscored 43-0 until getting back on the scoreboard with a touchdown against the Cathedral Catholic non-starters.
After watching Chaminade’s Mission League rivals, Serra of Gardena, on Saturday it would be hard to say which one of the two teams is better. The sense is that Alemany of Mission Hills, which is 0-2, lost by a more than respectable 24-3 score to state and national No. 2 St. John Bosco and probably should still be considered the league favorite.
Valor Christian or American Fork?
One never knows how strong a team from another state might be that is playing a game at the Honor Bowl. The two that came out for this week’s SoCal games — Valor Christian of Highlands Ranch, Colo., on Friday and American Fork of Utah on Saturday — were more than solid.
The ironic part of Valor Christian playing Oaks Christian (ranked No. 35 in the state coming in) is that Oaks Christian was one of the California private schools (private and religious but not Catholic) that the Valor Christian football program was based on when the school opened 13 years ago. The other school it was based on was Orange Lutheran since it was coaches who had left OLu to go to Colorado that got everything rolling.
Valor has been a state and national powerhouse, especially when current NFL star Christian McCaffrey was there recently. Last year’s team lost in the Class 5A state final 21-0 to Cherry Creek, but should be considered a favorite this year with Oklahoma-committed RB Gavin Sawchuk leading the way. He rushed 31 times for 243 yards and four TDs in leading the Eagles past Oaks Christian 30-7.
American Fork isn’t ranked as high in Utah as Lone Peak, the team that beat Alemany two weeks ago 30-28, but the Cavemen would be a team that plays on a top 15 or top 20 level in California and showed that by beating Serra of Gardena, 59-27. The Cavaliers had just beaten Long Beach Poly, 28-27, but in this game were doomed by mistakes and more injuries. They already were without a player we were really looking forward to watching, 2020-21 State Sophomore Athlete of the Year Rodrick Pleasant.
Sophomore WR Chase Farrell scored the only TD for Oaks Christian on a 41-yard pass from Cole Tannenbaum. The highlight for Serra was two TD passes from Texas-bound QB Maalik Murphy to Darrian Anderson. Sophomore Cincere Rhanney also had a 75-yard TD run for the Cavs and made some plays on defense.
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