East County Sports

Crusaders top Helix, join local powers



By Jim Lindgren 

LA MESA – After months of salivating and dreaming of being led by one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the nation, the 2019 Open Division champion Helix Highlanders were tossed a couple of nasty yellow hankies.

Delay of season … loss of 7 months.

No in-person schooling … 7 months and counting still.

Instead of 2019 Player of the Year Tyler Buchner at the Helix helm after transferring from Bishop’s, a freshman took the snaps last week and lost at home to Catholic school power St. Augustine.

A week later, another Catholic power in No. 8-ranked Mater Dei anointed the No. 4 Highlanders in a 19-2 convincing win at Jim Arnaiz Field on Friday night.

“There are no championships this year, but we’re playing for pride,” Helix coach Robbie Owens said. “We have to do a better job representing Helix.”

The Scotties’ only losing record in the past 46 years was a 2-7-1 campaign in 2005. Even that team started with a win and finished with a win but never lost back-to-back home games. The next year, Helix opened with an 0-2 mark but reeled off 10 straight wins before losing to Oceanside in the CIF Division II final. The 1975 team was the last to open 0-2 with both setbacks at home.

Granted, St. Augustine is now the No. 2-ranked team in the San Diego Section, and Mater Dei is surely to move up higher after its impressive season debut.

And Helix had never – hopefully ever again – lost consecutive games in March, the season having been delayed 7 months and cut to a maximum of six games because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re just missing so many guys,” Owens said. “We’ve got 12 guys who would have been starters for us in the fall not in the program. We’ve got 18 freshman and sophomores getting significant playing time.”

A few standouts opted out of their senior season because they had already attained scholarships. A few others are injured and not expected to play.

One, the big one, graduated in December and is now attending Notre Dame in hopes of winning a starting spot as a freshman.

Buchner (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) was the section Offensive Player of the Year last season after throwing for 4,474 yards with 53 touchdowns (and only 6 interceptions), plus he rushed for 1,610 yards and 28 TDs for The Bishop’s School. In the 2019 Division II championship loss to El Camino – his last high school game – Buchner accounted for 636 yards and 8 TDs.

He transferred to Helix in the summer to hone his skills against the best teams in the county. When the pandemic shifted the schedule, he opted for South Bend, Indiana.

In his place, Owens has started freshman Ryland Jesse the past two games and then switched to junior Cameron Tarling after Jesse was roughed up by Mater Dei.

“My freshman wouldn’t be playing if it wasn’t for Tyler,” Owens said. “For the 6 months or whatever he was in our program, he was great. He groomed Ryland and Cameron in a lot of ways and made them better players. He made me a better coach. I appreciate what he gave us and miss what could have been.”

Things haven’t gone according to wishes so far. Jesse was 2-of-6 for 15 yards with an interception against a rugged Mater Dei defense. Tarling was 2-of-7 for 1 yard with an interception, though he showed some promise running from trouble.

Junior tailback Christian Washington rushed 25 times for 117 yards, but Helix managed only 108 official rushing yards and 121 total yards. Aleandro Van Holten had a 48-yard dash to finish with 52 yards, but the Scotties lost 52 team rushing yards on a bad snap that was eventually recovered by Mater Dei’s Asiel Rodriguez midway through the fourth quarter.

The final result was essentially sealed after the Crusaders scored 19 points in the first half and controlled the clock and Helix throughout the second half.

Trevor Appelman, a promising 6-6 senior quarterback, threw for 184 yards and three first-half touchdowns, each to a different dynamic receiver.

“Trevor was tremendous,” Mater Dei coach John Joyner said. “He made some really nice decisions, even on plays that went nowhere.

“And we’ve got a couple of guys who are freaks. They’re going to make some plays once they get the ball.”

The dagger that started things was a 61-yard toss down the sideline to Raymond Romero.  Three plays later, Appelman found Chris Snyder on a short route that turned into a 29-yard TD barely 6 minutes into the game. Jerry Riggins blocked the PAT to keep it 6-0.

The Scotties’ next possession ended on an interception by Mauricio Reyes.

Early in the second quarter, from the 49-yard line Appelman fired a short strike to Darren Barkins, who then turned and race the distance for a 13-0 advantage and a huge momentum swing.

After a Helix three-and-out, the Crusaders charged again with a pass interference penalty against Helix and then on fourth down a 30-yard TD pass to Jacob Cannon. In un-Helix fashion, Appelman hit Cannon on a curl route around the 15-yard line, and Cannon turned and carried a few Highlanders into the end zone for a 19-0 lead. The PAT, this time, was blocked by Jordan Dominguez.

“We took care of business in the first half, and the defense was awesome throughout the game,” Appelman said. “It feels great. We’ve been waiting a long time to showcase our skills. We know we’re one of the top teams in the county.”

Helix would have been shut out, but a failed Mater Dei punt snap into the end zone resulted in a safety with 6 seconds left in the game.

Keep in mind, Helix has yet to permit in-person learning on campus (with a few exceptions). Virtually everything school-wise has been virtual.  Mater Dei has been in a hybrid situation with most students attending school two days a week and a few opting for distance learning online.

St. Augustine students have been back in person for nearly the entire school year, and the Saints are now 2-0 after whooping Madison 24-7.

No. 1 Cathedral Catholic (2-0) has yet to yield a point this season with a 41-0 win over then-No. 3 Torrey Pines (0-2) and a 38-0 romp of No. 9 Steele Canyon (1-1). Cathedral plays host to St. Augustine (2-0) next week. Mater Dei (1-0) – the third Catholic power – plays at Montgomery next week.

Helix travels to Steele Canyon next Friday for the first of two games against the Cougars this spring.


Mater Dei 6 13 0 0 – 19  

Helix     0  0 0 2 – 2  

MD – Chris Snyder 29 pass from Trevor Appelman (kick blocked) 

MD – Darren Barkins 49 pass from Trevor Appelman (Raymond Romero kick) 

MD – Jacob Cannon 30 pass from Trevor Appelman (kick blocked) 

H – Safety, punt snapped out of the end zone


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