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Foothill League football preview

The league is as stacked as ever

Posted: October 10, 2013 10:44 p.m.
Updated: October 10, 2013 10:44 p.m.

West Ranch defensive end Alex Rassool leads the Foothill League with nine sacks and has helped the Wildcats get off to a 4-1 start.

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Be careful about what you think you know.

Headed into today’s Foothill opening games, Hart is the league’s only 5-0 team. It has occupied the top spot in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division all season long and is ranked 10th in the state on this week’s CalHiSports.com top 25 list.

So is Hart a runaway favorite to reclaim the league crown?

Head coach Mike Herrington says not so fast.

“I don’t know if we’re a clear frontrunner,” Herrington said. “I think it’s up for grabs. I think we’ve been fortunate to have an undefeated preseason.”

One major factor moving forward for Hart — a team scoring 47 points per game so far — will be the health of all-around offensive weapon Connor Wingenroth, who injured his shoulder early in last week’s game against Santa Monica.

At a league-best 683 rushing yards and 13 combined touchdowns to go along with 265 receiving yards this season, Wingenroth has made a strong case for league player of the year. But he’ll miss today’s game against West Ranch and will be week-to-week from there on, Herrington said.

And then there are the four-time defending league champion Valencia Vikings, who derailed Hart’s chances at a league title with a win last season.

Valencia went 3-2 against a grueling preleague schedule and has been hit with a wave of injuries all at once with as many as nine players missing at one time.

All this while teams like Hart and Canyon are both playing at a high level.

“I don’t think we base it off competition or what other teams are doing,” said Valencia head coach Larry Muir. “Good teams are concerned with themselves. Our level of concern is with the inconsistent lack of play. We don’t pay attention much with that. We’re focused with our kids.”

But the Vikings are 19-1 against league opponents dating back to 2009 for a reason.

First-year varsity quarterback Jake Wallace won the starting job in fall camp and has emerged as one of the surprise stars early in the season. His 1,492 yards passing ranks second in league below the 1,780 mark of Hart’s Brady White.

Both quarterbacks get the benefit of a stellar group of wide receivers to target. White has Trent Irwin and Davis Koppenhaver to throw to while Wallace has Nick Jones, Malik Townsend and Jay Jay Wilson.

At No. 5 in the Northern Division, Valencia ranks one spot above the 4-1 Canyon Cowboys.

Aside from one slip-up in a 45-21 loss to a powerful Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks team, Canyon has been rock solid on both sides of the ball.

Outside of their lone loss, the Cowboys have outscored opponents 154-30. It indicates a marked improvement from the team’s defensive struggles last year.

Canyon has 12 interceptions as a team, including four apiece from Israel Cabrera and Tevon Priestley.

“What I like about (the way we’ve played) is our defense makes stops, it puts the offense in position to make plays,” said Canyon head coach Rich Gutierrez. “That’s where balance comes out.”

The Canyon offense, under the direction of second-year varsity quarterback and senior Cade Apsay, picked up where it left off last season.

Apsay joins White and Wallace in the group of elite quarterbacks in the league with his 1,254 yards passing. Apsay, White and Wallace have thrown for 14, 15 and 13 touchdowns, respectively.

But the other three teams in the league have some emerging stars as well.

Coming off a 2-8 finish in 2012, the West Ranch Wildcats shot out to a 4-1 start, which has put them as the fourth and final Foothill team ranked in the Northern Division top 10.

The 10th-ranked Wildcats have found success with a stifling defense that has allowed a Foothill low 9.2 points per contest and has accumulated 20 sacks. West Ranch defensive end Alex Rassool leads the league with nine sacks.

Offensively, senior running back Christian Parrish is having a breakout season with his 617 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Even so, first-year head coach Jan Miller isn’t bragging too much.

“I’m a realist. I know who we played and I know who our Foothill League opponents played,” Miller said. “We didn’t have the toughest schedule, but we did win the games that we were supposed to win.”

Saugus (3-2) and Golden Valley (2-3) are also showing potential and clear improvement from a year ago.

With a veteran defense, the Centurions have sacked opposing quarterbacks 22 times and collected 12 total takeaways.

Linebacker Blake Austin has helped anchor that effort with 47 tackles and two interceptions while also taking on running back duties in relief of starter Reid Rupe.

Rupe has 468 rushing yards and three touchdowns in four games of action despite being limited by shoulder and ankle injuries.

“One of the things we’ve done is we’ve consistently found ways to improve in parts of the game — reducing the amount of penalties, being more opportunistic on turnovers,” said Saugus head coach Jason Bornn.

Yet another impressive running back so far is Golden Valley senior Terry Tamura, who is second in the league with 657 yards to go with nine touchdowns.

He’s been a big part of why Golden Valley has posted its first multiple-win season since 2010 after coming off last week’s 47-6 rout of Chatsworth.

“It definitely helps us with confidence and success breeds success, so we’re hoping that will take us into Foothill League and help prepare us for what’s to come,” said Golden Valley head coach Robert Fisher.

The numbers and rankings show that Hart, Valencia and Canyon are the upper tier of the league until otherwise proven.

It should be a battle of a frontrunner in Hart, a defending champion in Valencia and the impressive numbers of Canyon.

“Should” being the key word.

There is a lot of unknown with Saugus, which has played only one game in the Santa Clarita Valley thus far, and West Ranch, which now has its first Foothill game under a new regime.

And then there’s Golden Valley, still hunting for its first Foothill win.

Hart and Canyon conclude the season with a game some see as a Foothill title contest.

Not if others have their say.

Signal Sports Cary Osborne contributed to this story.

 

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