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SCCS football: Call the switch a success

SCCS went from 1-4 to a playoff squad

Posted: November 17, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 17, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

It would have been easy for Santa Clarita Christian School to keep playing 8-man football.

The team probably would have continued its run as a perennial playoff power and could have contended for a third CIF title in four years.

But then again, easy isn’t something the Garrick Moss-coached football team knows much about, which is part of the reason it left the 8-man game behind this year.

"You don’t really get to see how it’s going to work until you get to that first game," Moss said of the school’s inaugural 11-man season. "It’s hard to simulate a real game in practice, so those first five or six weeks, there were a lot of adjustments."

Yet after a 1-4 start, the Cardinals (5-5) fought back from the early struggles and dealt with a rash of injuries to find a spot in the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division playoffs.

After finishing in second place with a 2-1 record in the San Joaquin League, SCCS has earned a first-round matchup against Bishop Mora Salesian High of Los Angeles on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Salesian High School.

"Our main goal at the beginning of the year was to find a way into that 16-team bracket however we could," Moss said.

It turned out to be quite a journey.

First came the four-game losing streak, which included a 63-0 loss to Desert Christian on Oct. 1 and a last-second 28-21 setback to St. Monica a week later.

The skid was finally ended when the Cardinals downed Crean Lutheran 35-0 on Oct. 15, but it came at a great cost.

During the game, SCCS starting quarterback Conner Harvey and starting running back Trevor Lopez were injured, adding yet another hurdle to a season the week before league play began.

"The guys work hard. They want to get better. They want to learn," Moss said. "We have a group of young men who are hungry and are just competing. What we’ve had when guys are injured, other guys have just stepped up."

Neither Harvey nor Lopez have returned to the field since then, though Harvey is expected to play Friday.

Lopez is still recovering from a concussion.

With both players out, the Cardinals moved from a pass-heavy spread offense to a single wing style that incorporated more running.

Freshman Jonathan Saavedra has had to take the reins at quarterback for an already young team that starts seven sophomores on defense.

Somehow, SCCS found ways to win its last two games against San Joaquin opponents and it tacked on another win via forfeit over Rancho Christian last week.

Players like Jacob Nogle and Derek Lewis have filled in nicely in the running game and wide receiver Chris Fechtelkotter has helped keep the aerial game alive.

Now, a more healthy, confident team heads into perhaps its most difficult challenge of the season against No. 5-ranked Salesian.

The Mustangs are led by dual-threat quarterback Jihad Vercher, who has thrown for 2.468 yards, 37 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Christian Vega adds another dimension to Salesian’s offense with his ability to run the ball.

Moss said the linemen are big on both sides of the ball and the team possesses talent and size in nearly every position.

Regardless of Friday’s outcome, Moss sees it as another opportunity for the team to grow.

It’s the same philosophy that led to the decision to move to 11-man in the first place.

"There’s no question that we feel as a coaching staff and as a school that we made the right decision (to move from 8-man)," Moss said. "This is for the future of our school."

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