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Hart football: Back in the playoffs

After one year absence, Hart gets Palos Verdes

Posted: November 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

Coming off its first season in which Hart football failed to make the playoffs under head coach Mike Herrington, the Indians are back in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs with a first-round matchup today against Palos Verdes High School at Mira Costa High at 7 p.m.

The Indians (7-3) made the playoffs as the fourth-place Foothill League team and received the division’s only at-large bid.
Their gift is a first-round matchup with the Bay League champion Sea Kings (8-2). Palos Verdes is a team known for its ground game and stifling defense, which has enabled it to outscore opponents by an average of 24 points this season — holding opponents to an average of just 12.7 points per game.

“Their offense just controls the tempo of the game,” Herrington said. “They run the ball, and they get little chunks. Then they get big chunks. They’ve been able to control the tempo of games and score. Play great defense, stop their opponents and then get the ball back and score.”

Running the offense is senior quarterback Zack Fixen, who has thrown for 1,287 yards on 80-of-145 attempts with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. On the ground, Fixen has added six touchdowns on 202 yards on 52 carries.

And that ground game is key for the Sea Kings.

After opening its season with a 21-10 loss to Moorpark High and a 34-32 loss to Narbonne High, Palos Verdes has rolled off eight straight victories, averaging about 23 more rushes than pass attempts per game.

The Sea Kings feature six players who have rushed for over 100 yards on the season, led by senior running back Salvatore Vitale’s 558 yards on 111 carries and four touchdowns.

Vitale will be running behind an experience offensive line, led by 6-foot-4-inch, 262-pound senior Chase Eldredge, an Oregon State University commit.

The Indians have struggled against high-powered rushing attacks this season, giving up 229 yards on the ground in a loss to Saugus, 149 yards to West Ranch’s Jeff Coprich, 132 yards in a loss to Canyon’s Max Archuleta and 115 yards to Golden Valley’s Earl Johnson.

Palos Verdes tries to maintain a balanced offense, according to head coach Guy Gardner, but the numbers indicate the more passes the Sea Kings are forced to throw, the more likely they are to lose. Palos Verdes’ 32 attempts in their week one loss to Moorpark were the highest number of pass attempts on the season. And the 18 attempts in the Narbonne loss ranks third highest on the year.

Hart’s ability to be successful against the Sea Kings might hinge on how much it can force Palos Verdes away from the ground game.

Hart will counter with quarterback Connor Wingenroth, who started the season splitting time with senior Cory Mayes but has established himself as the sole starter.

Wingenroth is coming off a 23-for-32, 325-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 42-34 victory over West Ranch High on Nov. 11.

“They’re a very good football team,” Gardner said. “It’s very evident, there’s a lot to be concerned with. They’re really solid all the way around. I don’t know where to start, very good quarterback. Strong arm, really good with his feet, fast, great set of receiver, they understand their offense.”

Aiding Wingenroth’s rise has been senior running back Dylan Edwards, who has been one of the best running backs in the Foothill League this season.

“Some people might think that the (Foothill) League throws the ball a lot more than our league, but what people may not know is they’re very committed to run the ball and they’re very physical,” Gardner said. “Just because they might not run in two to three back sets with a tight end in, they might be more physical.”

At wide receiver, the Indians are just as strong with senior Tim White, whose miracle touchdown catch gave the Indians a 19-14 victory over co-league champion Valencia on Oct. 21.

Hart’s freshman wide receiver Trenton Irwin has already made an impact in his first season at the school, accounting for 97 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions last week against West Ranch.

Hart’s quartet has flashes of big-play ability this season, something that could help the Indians during their playoff run.

The offensive line features three underclassmen as well, in guard John Perkins, tackle Austin Lee and center Blake Porter.

“They’ve done a great job for us,” Herrington said. “We’re still young but we’re experienced on the offensive line.

They’ve done a great job for us. They’ve been the big contributors to our success on offense this year.”

Now, Hart will try to continue getting contributions from both its experienced and inexperienced players alike, as the
Indians try to keep their return trip to the playoffs alive.

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