In this salute to teams we have categorized as medium or small schools based on competitive equity, enrollment and other factors, it’s a new feature this season pointing the spotlight on two of them each week who just had impressive outings on the football field. Congrats to Ayala of Chino Hills (medium) and Escalon (small).
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Medium Schools – AYALA (CHINO HILLS)
Although there’s a chance if the Bulldogs keep playing like they are that they could end up in the more difficult CIF Southern Section D2 playoffs instead of D3 (which is where they were last year), they are clearly what we would call medium schools and clearly are a team to be watched closely by all of the major pollsters.
Ayala is coming off of a 9-2 season from 2021 that ended in a first-round CIFSS D3 playoff loss (31-14) to Foothill of Tustin. Sophomore QB Bryan Wilson is back for his junior season and has been as good as advertised.
Wilson, a dual-threat QB with listed offers from Florida State and Texas A&M, passed for 314 yards and three TDs in a 28-7 victory last week over Etiwanda. Two of his TDs went to speedy Dominic Alloway with one that covered 90 yards to Lytallion Payne II. That win was extra sweet since Etiwanda is a team that went 12-1 last season and was inside the State TOP 50 for most of it.
Head coach A.J. Gracia’s squad also had a strong win in its opener, 28-14, over a Torrey Pines of San Diego squad that was in the CIF San Diego Section Open Division (top four) last season.
With those two wins, the SGV/Whittier Prep Sports Zone ranks Ayala No. 2 only behind Bishop Amat of La Puente (No. 14 in state) and in front of teams like Damien (La Verne), Pasadena and La Serna (Whittier). Pasadena and La Serna face each other this week with the Bulldogs playing Leuzinger of Lawndale, a team that has several D1 prospects.
Small Schools – ESCALON
There was a lot of disgust on social media last year when the small school Cougars were placed opposite private school and Bay Area power Marin Catholic of Kentfield in the CIF NorCal D4-AA regional final and they had to go on the road. When the game was played, Escalon fell behind 21-0 in the third quarter, but something starting clicking after that (we were there) and a ferocious rally ensued. The Cougars scored twice and even had a chance for a game-tying or go-ahead score in the final minute until an interception with one minute left sealed a 21-14 defeat. Marin Catholic had a much easier time the following week in winning the CIF D4-AA state title.
With a lot of returning starters coming back from that 9-2 team, it’s obvious that Escalon head coach Andrew Beam wanted to test this year’s group with similar competition to Marin Catholic. At least one team on the schedule, however, was thought to be perhaps too much of an upward leap. The Cougars didn’t upset Buchanan of Clovis last Friday, but their 41-40 loss in two overtimes was impressive nonetheless and still deserves extra kudos.
Facing a Buchanan squad that had won its first game 56-3 over Bakersfield and is considered one of the top two or three favorites to win this year’s CIF Central Section D1 title, Escalon’s Wing-T offense gave the Bears’ defense fits throughout the night. It was a similar opponent as if the Cougars had taken on nearby St. Mary’s of Stockton.
Ryker Peters had a big night for the Cougars with 30 carries for 202 yards and three TDs. Running mate Logan Anderson added two more TDs on the ground and he caught four passes for 116 yards and another score. QB Donovan Rozevink also had 136 yards passing (1 TD).
A Buchanan field goal by Joshua Dunu with two seconds left forced overtime at 34-34. Neither team scored in the first overtime, but in the second Peters punched one in. A two-point conversion try was stopped by the Bears, who then matched Escalon’s touchdown and then got the win on a PAT by Dunu.
Escalon’s tough schedule will continue this week at home vs. Windsor, 1-0 under new head coach Dean Sexton (replacing Paul Cronin, now in Ohio). The Cougars are perhaps even more of a favorite now to win another CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D5 title and if they keep playing like they are might even get a higher seed on the NorCal board than the SJS D4 champion. As they showed against Buchanan, however, even if it’s up there in D3-AA or D3-A, they’ll be ready.