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Hart football ready for anything in title game

Indians going for their ninth CIF football title in school history

Posted: December 5, 2013 8:53 p.m.
Updated: December 5, 2013 8:53 p.m.

We preview Friday night's CIF championship game between Valencia and Hart from Hart's perspective.

 

Thirty-five days ago, a dejected Hart Indians football team walked off the field at College of the Canyons after a stunning loss to the Valencia Vikings.

A lot has changed since then.

For one, the stakes are much higher, as Hart (11-2) faces Valencia (11-2) at Valencia High tonight at 7 p.m. for the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division championship.

“The thing about it is, if we would be playing these guys in the semifinals, there would be more of a rematch undertone to the game,” said Hart head coach Mike Herrington, who is going for his seventh CIF title as a head coach. “But we’re in the final, so we’re not worried about rematch per se, we’re worried about a CIF championship.”

It’s safe to say Valencia has been a thorn in Hart’s side for the last seven years. Since 2007, the Indians have beaten the Vikings just once.

In that same span of time, Hart has claimed one Foothill League title and Valencia has won five.

“They have great coaching,” said Herrington of why Valencia has had the upper hand in recent years. “They have great talent and they’ve worked hard. They’re one of the hardest working teams around.”

But there was a time when this rivalry was firmly controlled by Hart.

The Indians won the first 10 matchups between these two teams from 1996-2003, including two CIF championship wins in 1999 and 2001.

For as much success as both teams have had, Hart has history on its side when it comes to big games like this one as the team will try to bring home its eighth all-time CIF crown dating back to its first one in 1983 and the last in 2003.

Today’s Hart team comes in under different circumstances than in previous years though.

Never has a Hart team won a CIF title without also winning a league title the same season. This year, Hart finished third in the Foothill.

“The funny thing is we don’t consider ourselves a third-place team,” Herrington said. “We lost to two good football teams, league rivals, back-to-back. ... We just made the decision as a team that, ‘Hey, we’re good enough to go to the finals and we’ve got to start playing like it.’ That’s what they did.”

In the last three weeks, the Indians have effectively played their way into a rematch against a Valencia team that held Hart to its lowest point total of the season last time out on Nov. 1.

“Unfortunately we didn’t play the best game of our lives that week and they played really well and they got the W,” said Hart junior quarterback Brady White, who was sacked nine times in that game.

Hart’s offensive line, anchored by senior center Blake Porter and senior tackle Eric Stafford, will be important factors against Valencia’s aggressive defensive front.

But there are two major factors in the Nov. 1 matchup that have changed dramatically.

For one, Hart running back Connor Wingenroth was very limited in that game as he was still recovering from a shoulder injury.

He comes into today’s game having rushed for 731 yards and scoring eight touchdowns combined in the last three games.

“We’re just executing better I think,” Wingenroth said of the three-game stretch. “In the playoffs, everyone has just been doing their job and not worrying about other people.”

The other difference is the absence of Valencia senior wide receiver/safety Jay Jay Wilson, who was suspended for an illegal hit in last week’s semifinal game against Saugus.

Wilson was a major factor against Hart, running for 135 yards on 23 carries out of the newly installed power pitch offense.

That was the first and only time Valencia has run that type of scheme all season.

For Hart, it’s all about preparing for the unexpected.

“Hopefully if they do come out with something that we’re not ready for. Then we can make some quick adjustments and we can go from there,” Herrington said. “I don’t know what else they could do in a week that could be different.”

They say anything can happen in a rivalry game. But then again, this game is about much more than bragging rights.

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