Ian Anderson noon, Dec. 25
Game of the Week
No. 1 Oceanside (2-1) at No. 3 Poway (2-1) Friday 7 p.m.
Oceanside moved atop the Red Zone rankings after a decisive win over Mira Mesa last week, and in their first week at No. 1 the Pirates face a tough test against fellow Division II contender Poway. Senior quarterback Tofi Paopao leads an Oceanside offense full of weapons, and the Pirates’ defense bounced back with a shutout last week after allowing 40 points in a loss to Temecula Chaparral on Sept. 7. Poway rebounded from its first loss of the season by beating San Pasqual last week in a defensive struggle and for the second time in three weeks, the third-ranked Titans host a North County showdown that doubles as a potential playoff preview. Led by two-way senior playmaker Derek Babiash, Poway has been stout on defense so far but has struggled at times offensively. The game should be back and forth, with the winner staking a claim as one of the top teams in the section.
Best of the Rest
No. 9 Valley Center (3-0) at No. 6 Mission Hills (2-1) Friday 7 p.m.
Mission Hills came into the season highly touted, but after three weeks it is still hard to get a read on the Grizzlies. This upcoming two-week stretch against Valley Center and Oceanside will reveal just how good the sixth-ranked Grizzlies are. Junior quarterback Connor Wynn (463 yards, two TDs) leads the Mission Hills offense, while the Grizzlies’ defense features Arizona-bound senior defensive back Devin Holiday. Valley Center has shut out two of its first three opponents, and the Jaguars also begin a challenging two game stretch that includes Poway the following week. Valley Center’s senior quarterback-receiver duo of Ryan Kleiman (516 yards, four TDs) and Michael McInerny (13 receptions, 274 yards) is one of the best in the section, and junior running back Austin Bernard gives the Jaguars a threat on the ground. Both teams are facing their toughest test thus far, and if Valley Center can overcome its lack of depth against the bigger Mission Hills this could be one of the best games of the early season.
Otay Ranch (3-0) vs. No. 8 St. Augustine (3-0) Friday 6:30 p.m. at Mesa College
St. Augustine is off to a fast start this season, and the eighth-ranked Saints face an equally hot Otay Ranch in a battle of unbeatens. St. Augustine has beaten its first three opponents with a steady defense and a run-first attack led by junior back Tyler Herburger (460 yards, six TDs), and the Saints’ undefeated start has included road wins over bigger schools Carlsbad and Steele Canyon. Otay Ranch has raced past its opponents, averaging 32.7 points per game in three victories. Junior dual threat quarterback Kyle Hawkins (399 yards passing, 194 yards rushing) leads an Otay Ranch offense that relies on the run. Whichever team can get its ground game going early will have a good chance at continuing its undefeated start.
No. 4 Cathedral Catholic (2-1) at Vista Murrieta (3-0) Friday 7 p.m.
Fresh off knocking off top-ranked Helix, Cathedral Catholic heads north to face Southern Section power and nationally ranked Vista Murrieta in a game that has state playoff implications for the entire section. Vista Murrieta is ranked third in the state and ninth in the nation by MaxPreps, and a pair of Division I-bound seniors – safety Su’a Cravens (USC) and quarterback Nick Stevens (Colorado State) – provides the star power for the Broncos. Cathedral Catholic will need a stellar performance from its defense and more consistency on offense to have a shot at upending Vista Murrieta. How will the Dons represent the section in this showdown?
No. 7 Eastlake (2-1) at Steele Canyon (1-2) Friday 7 p.m.
Eastlake has won two straight since losing its opener to Helix, rolling up a combined 97 points in victories over Scripps Ranch and Escondido. Senior two-way star Aaron Baltazar provides the playmaking ability for the Titans, who are one of the fastest teams in the section. Steele Canyon continues its arduous nonleague slate when it hosts Eastlake, picking up a win after losses to Cathedral Catholic and St. Augustine. The transition to new head coach Scott Longerbone and a new spread offense hasn’t slowed the Cougars, as the senior duo of quarterback Brandon Andrade (572 yards, four TDs) and receiver Brandon Howard (11 receptions, 214 yards) have paced Steele Canyon’s offense. These teams have met each of the past five seasons, with Eastlake winning each of those games – including a 25-7 victory last season.
In the Red Zone
Morse (1-2) at Point Loma (1-2) Friday 3 p.m.
Two city teams and Division III foes looking to snap losing streaks take aim at each other on Friday afternoon. Both Morse and Point Loma are coming off narrow losses last week – the Tigers lost 43-40 to Valhalla last week while the Pointers fell 19-14 at Lincoln.
Pictured: Poway senior defensive back Derek Babiash
Stats: Union-Tribune, MaxPreps, East County Sports