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Preview: Hart takes on West Torrance

Indians look to return to CIF title game

Posted: November 28, 2013 10:51 p.m.
Updated: November 28, 2013 10:51 p.m.

Hart's Wes Fitzpatrick runs the ball on Nov. 22 against Palos Verdes at College of the Canyons. He's been a valuable two-way player for the Indians this season.

 

Three months ago, it wouldn’t have been so surprising to see the Hart Indians football team playing in a semifinal playoff game.

After all, Hart opened the season ranked atop the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division.

And sure enough, here the Indians are preparing for tonight’s Northern Division semifinal against the West High Warriors of Torrance at College of the Canyons at 7 p.m.

Perhaps the only surprising part of Hart’s arrival to this point is the roller-coaster ride it has taken to get here with a chance to earn a spot in a CIF championship game for the first time since 2007.

Hart won its first eight games of the season and was one of the top-ranked teams in the state until back-to-back losses to Valencia and Canyon to cap the regular season derailed a chance at a Foothill League title.

But the Indians (10-2), who finished third in league, have played some of their best football in the last two weeks on their way to a pair of impressive playoff wins.

“We’ve been tackling better and we’ve been more disciplined I think,” said Hart head coach Mike Herrington.

“There’s less confusion out there in the things we’re trying to do and I think the guys have just settled down a little bit and just playing football instead of worrying about stuff.”

One aspect that has picked up in particular is the running game. Or more specifically, senior running back Connor Wingenroth, who ran for a school-record 285 yards in a first-round win over Paso Robles and backed it up with 278 more rushing yards in last week’s win over Palos Verdes.

The senior appears to be fully recovered from a separated shoulder he suffered in a game on Oct. 4.

And he’ll be an important factor in maintaining a balanced attack against an aggressive West High defense.

“They are a very, very good football team,” Herrington said of the Warriors, who played in last year’s Northern Division championship against Palos Verdes. “We have to make sure we convince our players. (We) realize how good they are.”

This is the second time in these playoffs that the Warriors (10-2) will make a trip north to the Santa Clarita Valley.

West dispatched Canyon 35-27 on Nov. 15 in the first round.

A big reason why was because of how much West was able to hassle Canyon quarterback Cade Apsay with its two monster defensive ends.

On one side, there’s 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound senior Ray Lima with 10 sacks and 99 tackles this year. Opposite Lima is 6-foot-3-inch, 260-pound fellow senior J.J. Allen (eight sacks, 79 tackles).

Hart’s offensive line will have its hands full trying to protect for quarterback Brady White, who leads all Southern Section passers with 3,828 yards through the air.

“They have a couple of really good defensive ends,” Herrington said. “Some of the best I’ve seen all year.”

The Warriors’ season has played out in similar fashion to Hart’s. West lost two Bay League games to end up finishing third place, but the Warriors have bounced back and played well in the postseason.

West’s worst loss came in a 34-7 setback on Oct. 25 to Bay League champion Palos Verdes, the same team Hart beat 33-12 last week.

Herrington warned to not read into that too much.

“West Torrance didn’t play their best game against (Palos Verdes), and they’re kind of like us a little bit,” he said.

“They had that bad game and now they’ve played two exceptional games.”

These teams have offensive styles in common as well. The Warriors use a fast-paced spread offense that challenges teams with the passing game, much like the Indians.

West senior quarterback Zach Heeger has thrown for 1,983 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 62 percent of his passes.

Heeger will look for weapons like Dale Rouse, who has 401 yards and four receiving touchdowns.

West’s leading rusher is junior Brett Ojiyi, with 1,037 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground, but he hasn’t played in the last two games.

The Indians will have to play sound on defense, led by linebackers Garrett Updegraft and Cody Shoemaker.

Hart’s sack leader Blake Porter (six sacks) will be an important factor on the defensive line and defensive backs

Chase White (three interceptions, three pass breakups) and Wes Fitzpatrick (two picks, six pass breakups) will need to hold their own on the back end.

If Hart can ride the momentum into the title game, it will earn a date with either Saugus or Valencia in an all-local championship.

“The old cliché,” Herrington said. “We’re just working on what we need to get better this week. We’re not worried about anything past Friday night.”

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