Eastlake defeats Carlsbad with combo of speed and defense

Eastlake clinched a spot in the San Diego Section Division I championship game with another last-minute defensive stand, this time against Carlsbad for a 24-21 semifinal win Friday night at home.

It was déjà vu all over again for the Titans (10-2), who held off a ferocious last-minute drive last week to beat Rancho Bernardo.

“I think I lost some years of my life in the last five minutes there,” said Titans football coach Dean Tropp, whose team will face El Camino in the final Friday.

Like so many times this season, Jalyn Jackson’s dynamic speed had opposing coaching staffs pulling their hair and groaning in disbelief as the 5-foot-10 Eastlake burner got behind their defense. Jackson’s first score came on the Titans’ first offensive drive, a 58-yard strike from quarterback Daniel Amon.

Jackson wasn’t done. After Carlsbad (6-6) tied the game at seven, Jackson returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to the house.

“I’m a track guy, so speed is everything,” Jackson said. “I know that I’m a lot faster than these guys. I’ve got to come out with a chip on my shoulder and believe no one can touch me. You got to have that motivation and power to do so.”

The Lancers got one last solid performance from senior quarterback Troy Bloomquist, who finished 18 of 25 for 179 yards and a touchdown, along with several key third- and fourth-down throws that kept Carlsbad alive.

Eastlake survives late rally by Rancho Bernardo

Eastlake held off a late Rancho Bernardo rally to secure a 21-16 home win Friday in the quarterfinals of the San Diego Section Division I football playoffs.

The win was the first playoff victory of Dean Tropp’s career, and the Titans head coach said the game and the season felt like “redemption” after a disappointing 2016.

“We had a tough schedule last year,” Tropp said. “We had a tough year last year. These kids fought, they never gave up. They’re champs. They rose to the occasion when they needed to. We knew Rancho Bernardo was going to play us hard. They’re well-coached. We knew it was going to be a battle.”

Jalyn Jackson, one of the most explosive players in the South Bay, got the Titans (9-2) on the board early with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Daniel Amon in the first quarter. Jackson, who came into the game averaging a staggering 28.6 yards per catch, finished with 60 yards receiving and his eighth touchdown catch of the season.

Morris led the Broncos (6-6) deep into Titans territory with only seconds left in the game, but failed to reach the end zone.

“(Morris) has a lot of potential,” Broncos coach Tristan McCoy said. “He definitely has the ability to be a really good one as long as he keeps improving.”

Rookie QB has Otay Ranch closing in on a league title

“Puka” is the nickname Jonte Stewart’s mom gave him as a kid. She told him it meant “fat.”

Stewart is anything but fat, yet it’s the name that stuck with the slender quarterback, who has Otay Ranch High on the verge of its first league title in more than 10 years.

The 5-foot-11, 162-pound junior has provided a spark since wrestling the starting job from senior Alfredo Garcia. Stewart and Garcia split playing time for much of the season’s first half until Garcia suffered a shoulder injury in a Week 5 loss to Steele Canyon. Stewart became the full-time starter and hasn’t looked back.

“Both quarterbacks were doing a fine job,” Mustangs football coach Lance Christensen said. “But based on the injury that Alfredo had, Puka kind of rolled into the spot. He’s done a great job.”

Stewart was solid in his first start, throwing for 159 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-21 passing in the Mustangs’ 21-7 victory against Valhalla.

His first-year varsity statistics have been impressive: 859 yards, a 60 percent completion percentage, 10 touchdown passes to only two interceptions, and a 126 MaxPreps QB rating.

“The one thing I think is so impressive about him is his composure,” said Christensen, in his fourth year as coach. “He never seems to let things get to him. Whether things are going well or not, he has that same demeanor, and I think as a result his confidence and belief that he’s going to get the job done despite adversity I think really motivates the players around him.”

Stewart said Seattle’s Russell Wilson is his favorite quarterback, partly because Otay Ranch offers a high school version of what the Seahawks are facing.

“I look up to him a lot,” Stewart said. “We have somewhat of a good (offensive) line and he has a rookie O-line, so he’s always under pressure. I like how he handles himself under pressure and how he scrambles.”

Stewart, a gifted athlete capable of being a dual-threat option, admits he’s often tempted to get out of the pocket and scramble when facing pressure. Part of the reason he’s secured the QB position has been his ability to make gains with his arm rather than bailing on the play.

“I don’t want to have to rely on that too much,” said Stewart, who’s rushed for 208 yards. “If you know your plays, if you know your check-downs, then you’re straight. That’s how you get it done. Usually I want to run, because coming from JV, it was a lot of keep the ball, don’t pass it.”

Junior defensive back Kenny Robinson, friends with Stewart since sixth grade, said his longtime teammate knows how to liven things up, especially when the situation isn’t going well.

“He can do anything from crazy dances to funny little speeches here and there,” Robinson said. “He will always make sure that you have a smile on your face. He’s not really a big talker (on the field). His actions have a really big impact on us.”

Things, however, have been going well for Stewart, Robinson and the entire Mustangs team. Otay Ranch, which has won four straight, is 3-0 in the Metro Mesa League and 6-3 overall. A win Friday night against Mater Dei Catholic will clinch sole possession of first place for the first time since Gene Alim was Mustangs coach in 2006.

Stewart, as much as anyone else on the roster, has been the driving force behind Otay Ranch’s renaissance season.

“I think the thing about Puka is he’s kind of a quiet leader,” Christensen said. “He’s not a guy who’s going to get out there and yell. He leads by example. With his confidence and composure, that really sets the tone for the rest of the team.”

Hilltop RB gains 348 yards in win over Sweetwater

A monster game by running back Jeremiah Rivera carried Hilltop to a 28-6 win Friday night against Sweetwater at Chula Vista High and secured a share of the Metro South Bay League title for the Lancers.

Hilltop (5-4, 2-0) used its up-tempo offense to wear down the Red Devils defense that looked slower and less alert after every Lancers offensive snap. Rivera got Hilltop on the board with a 15-yard burst up the middle in the first quarter.

 The diminutive Rivera broke tackles and evaded defenders with his quickness and smarts. The senior tailback finished with 348 rushing yards and four touchdowns, including an 80-yard sprint to start the third quarter.

 

“He’s unbelievable,” Hilltop coach Drew Westling said. “He’s done a great job. He did a great job, our O-line did a great job, our receivers did a great. I don’t know what the school record for rushing yards is, but we’re getting close. And we could be so much better, too.”

 

Red Devils coach Bryan Wagner said the school will hear soon whether it will be forced to forfeit wins that could potentially keep the team out of the playoffs.

Wagner said a few of his players have already been ruled ineligible because of grades, and he expects to know more next week.

“(The players) played with a lot heart,” Wagner said. “They never gave up. We were getting run over a little bit by their offense. Defense didn’t play as well as it did last week.”

Montgomery’s two-back attack powers win over S.D. Southwest

Montgomery celebrated homecoming with a 14-7 win over Southwest to open Metro Pacific League play Friday night.

The host Aztecs (5-3, 1-0), much like the Raiders, had little in the form of a passing game, instead feeding senior running back Hunter Joseph early and often. Joseph was explosive and dynamic, consistently showing bursts of speed that Southwest struggled to maintain.

After being shut out in the first half, Montgomery’s offense got rolling as it wore down Southwest with its two-man running attack. Junior running back Samson You put the Aztecs on the board with a 4-yard touchdown run in the third, then Joseph capped his big night with a 27-yard score that proved to be the game winner.

“This year we’ve always been a second-half team,” Montgomery coach Sanj Subbiah said. “Every game, even the ones we lost, we played tougher and harder and never gave up in the second half. We do tend to come back in the second half and try to make up for the mistakes.”

“We played hard,” Southwest coach Paco Silva said. “We’re finishing now. We’re becoming a football program. You can ask anybody. Our guys played hard until the end. We had some mistakes here or there, but that’s just football. That’s adversity. I’m just really proud of these kids.”

Otay Ranch beats Olympian to take charge in Metro Mesa League

Otay Ranch rallied to overcome a two-score first-half deficit Friday night at home to take down Olympian 35-23 and claim sole possession of first place in the Metro Mesa league.

The Mustangs (5-3, 2-0) struggled to keep up with the Eagles (4-4, 1-1) for most of the first half. It wasn’t until a late second-quarter 31-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Jonte Stewart to wide receiver Josh Lira that the Otay offense finally showed signs of life, and then some.

The Metro Mesa league leaders came out hot in the third quarter, scoring a pair of touchdowns that gave them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The first was a 49-yard strike from Stewart to deep-threat Zeek Cruz. Then workhorse running back Gus Espiritu ran it in from 23 yards out for his second score of the game.

“(Stewart) did such a great job. He was clutch in several situations; coming up big, having great reads, and really good presence in the pocket,” said Otay Ranch coach Lance Christensen, whose team this fall has beaten Eastlake and Olympian for the first time in the same season.

Eagles senior quarterback Nico Mendoza was solid, delivering one accurate pass after another to his versatile playmakers.

“(Mendoza) played OK,” Eagles coach Paul Van Nostrand said. “We made mistakes that let him down. We had some guys open drop some balls. In big games like this you have to make those plays.”

Mendoza led a 73-yard scoring drive on Olympian’s first offensive possession, connecting with explosive senior wide receiver Isaiah Williams on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Williams also rushed for an 8-yard score in the second quarter, then switched to the other side of the ball and forced a strip sack fumble as an outside linebacker.

Schools still thankful for Chargers’ gifts, but fan interest waning

When the Chargers relocated to Los Angeles this year, left behind were dozens of new and refurbished weight rooms funded by the team at high schools across San Diego County.

School officials and athletes remain thankful for the facilities even if the football franchise is no longer around.

 “They were tremendous to this school,” Rancho Buena Vista Athletic Director Marty Nellis said. “That weight room is beautiful. It’s been a boon to our athletic program as well as our P.E. department. As the athletic director I’m very grateful.”

Allegiance to the team, however, has wavered.

Since 2000, the NFL franchise has donated more than $5 million to more than 100 schools across the county through its Chargers Champions School Grant Program, according to the team’s website. Funding hasn’t been limited to high school weight rooms. The program allowed public and private schools to apply for grants for physical fitness, nutrition or athletic programs on their campuses.

Clairemont Athletic Director Manuel Diaz, also the school’s football coach, said not only did the Chargers donate a new weight room they also provided money for sand volleyball courts. A self-described hometown guy, Diaz said he was “bummed” the team left. But like others he had no shortage of superlatives for San Diego’s former football franchise.

“They did so much,” Diaz said. “I know people say what they want to say, but they did some great things in this community. Things that we couldn’t have done that they were able to help out with. I think that was an awesome thing.”

 

“I’m definitely thankful for all the work the Chargers put into the community,” Catarius said. “I’m upset San Diego is losing all the support they provided. If anything, it makes me angrier. There are plenty of places within the community which could continue to use the Chargers’ support, and now we’ve lost that outlet.”

Josh Rupprecht, vice president of public relations for the L.A. Chargers, said in an email that the team is concentrating its philanthropic efforts in Los Angeles and Orange counties but hasn’t abandoned San Diego.

Though the Chargers Champions grant program isn’t in effect for 2017, Rupprecht said that the team remains active in San Diego with sponsorship of youth and high school football programs, Play60 camps for youngsters and non-football activities like Make-A-Wish.

Through an application process via the Chargers website, a school grant selection team that included President of Business Operations A.G. Spanos would pick up to seven schools a year to receive funding. High schools would be eligible for the highest grant, $75,000, while middle and elementary schools would receive up to $40,000.

Granite Hills football coach Kellan Cobbs, whose school received a new weight room, echoed the sentiments of others.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” Cobbs said. “We’re super thankful for it.”

Cobbs’ fandom has gone from devoted to indifferent. Once a rabid follower who was among the tens of thousands to welcome the Bolts back to Mission Valley after they clinched their only Super Bowl appearance in the 1994 season, Cobbs now schedules his scout team activities and high school prep work on Sundays to avoid the Chargers altogether.

“Financially, it just made sense for them,” Cobbs said. “I don’t think them and the city ever worked that well together trying to get a new stadium done. The year before they left, I was at the Chiefs game and it was 75 percent Chiefs fans. You kind of got the feeling it was coming to an end soon.”

Rupprecht said the Chargers also are planning to continue sponsorship of the Alex Spanos All-Star Football Classic, played after the high school season to showcase the year’s top graduating seniors. Organizers say the NFL team has contributed between $10,000 and $20,000 toward each game over the past 25 years. This season’s game is set for Jan. 20.

Southwest High, the last recipient of a new weight room via the Chargers Champions program, opened the facility in July with a ceremony that included former Chargers player Hank Bauer and current tight end Sean McGrath.

Southwest Assistant Principal Bobby Bonilla, who spearheaded the school’s effort to secure the donation, said he feels no ill will toward the Chargers, that relocating was a business decision the team had to make.

“My kids and myself are still Chargers fan,” Bonilla said. “I’m not going to go to L.A. to watch a game, but I’m still watching the Chargers and going from there. I’m not going to be a Raiders fan, I’ll tell you that.”

Otay Ranch defense makes stand in win over rival Eastlake

Otay Ranch has turned the tide against rival Eastlake. After enduring a 10-year losing streak to the Titans, the Mustangs have won the last two games.

On homecoming night Friday, Otay Ranch halted a furious fourth-quarter drive by Eastlake to secure a thrilling 31-28 Metro Mesa League football win.

Mustangs junior defensive back David Hafoka picked off Titans quarterback Daniel Amon with 20 seconds to play after Eastlake had driven from its own 1-yard line to the Otay Ranch 25.

“This year that’s one of the things I’ve been pressing my defense to do is force more turnovers,” said Otay Ranch coach Lance Christensen, whose team beat the Titans 27-14 last season. “When you play a really good team like Eastlake, you have to win the turnover battle.”

Junior quarterback Jonte Stewart threw a pair of touchdown passes for the Mustangs (4-3, 1-0), the first coming in the second quarter when he hit senior wide receiver Zeek Cruz from 34 yards out. The second was a monster 68-yard catch and run by wide receiver Josh Lira in the third period.

Otay Ranch running back Sammy Paranada supplied the winning points with an 8-yard scoring run in the final quarter.

Amon was solid for the No. 10-ranked Titans (5-2, 0-1), tossing four touchdown passes to a pair of explosive receivers. Jalyn Jackson caught scoring strikes of 51 and 29 yards. Kevin Bateman caught TD passes of 33 and 25 yards.

“We were seeing how they were lining up defensively and knew we could exploit that,” Eastlake coach Dean Tropp said. “Jalyn Jackson’s one of the fastest guys in the South Bay. We knew we could get vertical on those guys. They played us tough. They ended up bracketing us when it counted.”

Trip south pays off as Oceanside defeats Mater Dei Catholic

A glut of playmakers carried Oceanside to its second road win of the season, a 35-17 victory Friday night over Mater Dei Catholic.

Near the bottom in the Avocado League standings, the Pirates (2-3) played like a unit that had a sense of urgency, wasting no time getting on the board. Senior running back Mikah Linnan was a blur in the open field, jetting past defenders for 43-yard touchdown run on Oceanside’s first offensive play of the game.

Speedster Armand Fesili was a standout on both sides of the ball. The scant 5-foot-8 playmaker scored on a 34-yard run to put Oceanside ahead 14-0 in the first quarter. Fesili, who also plays strong safety, had two big sacks and a handful of hard-hitting tackles.

“The run game is something that defines us,” Oceanside coach David Rodriguez said. “We pride ourselves on it.”

The Crusaders’ offense didn’t look like a unit capable of winning the Metro Mesa League title. Mental errors and poor execution doomed Mater Dei Catholic (2-3), with the biggest miscue coming in the second quarter when the Crusaders receiver dropped a would-be 42-yard touchdown pass.

Mater Dei Catholic quarterback Cameron Smith threw for a pair of TDs: a 47-yarder to senior running back Nick Lopez and an 11-yard strike to junior wide receiver Rayshawn Holscher.

“There’s a reason why we scheduled them,” Rodriguez said. “We get better as a team by playing teams like this because every week is a playoff week, especially in our league. Playing against a Mater Dei team is no different because (Mater Dei Catholic) coach John Joyner and the young men here have a winning tradition.”

Balanced Eastlake scores lopsided win over Valhalla

Eastlake dominated Valhalla 38-7 Friday night behind its power running game and playmaking defense.

The host Titans (4-1) got off to a fast start when their defense forced turnovers on the Norsemen’s first two possessions.

Senior cornerback Jalyn Jackson picked off Valhalla quarterback Bryan Madriz, then Eastlake corner Dylan Kohler recovered the ball after Norseman running back Ty Schimke fumbled.

On offense, the Metro Mesa League’s Titans relied heavily on their dynamic ground game. Running back Parker Merrifield, the team’s second-leading rusher coming into the game, rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries

Speedy Rayshawn Parks-Price rushed for 82 yards and a pair of TDs on 10 carries, including a 2-yard score that gave Eastlake a 17-0 lead going into the half.

Eastlake junior quarterback Daniel Amon looked calm and confident putting the ball in the hands of his best offensive weapons. Amon got the Titans on the board with an easy 12-yard glide to the end zone to open the scoring.

“It was a complete victory,” Titans coach Dean Tropp said. “A lot of guys stepped up when they were called upon and got the job done.”

Valhalla (2-2) of the Grossmont Hills League struggled for most of the game to get anything going on offense. The Norsemen’s lone touchdown came late in the fourth quarter when quarterback Dennis Dahlin hit wide receiver Connor Buckley for a 29-yard score.

“We found out who wants to fight when the chips are down,” Valhalla head coach Charles Bussey said after the game. “I know who is and who isn’t going to keep fighting.”