East County Sports

Unforgettable season comes to a close

East County Player of the Year Justus McComb / Dan Barnes Photography



EastCountySports.com staff report


LA JOLLA – The Helix-La Jolla football series never quite got off the ground.

When Helix first opened its doors, there were far fewer teams to play the region, so the Highlanders’ first varsity football season included a Week 5 contest with La Jolla in 1951.

The meeting was the start of a three-year stretch of games between the programs, which were all won by the Vikings… and the schools have never met on the football field since.

Back then, La Jolla won by scores of 22-0, 20-12, and 13-0, with both shutouts occurring in East County. The Vikings, who had already been playing football since 1924, were led to victory in that first game over Helix by Sid Greenfield, who rushed for a first-quarter touchdown and passed for a score to junior Al Chambers in the second quarter.

It was the 1952 meeting that was a thriller.

In a City League game played in front of 6,000 fans at Scripps Field, Art Luppino, of the Vikes, had touchdown runs of 76 and 95 yards in the span of 40 seconds to send the “expansion” Highlanders home without a victory for the 11th-consecutive time, although the Highlanders had a Week 2 6-all tie that season with Hamilton, of Los Angeles.

Luppino scored his first long run with 30 seconds left before halftime. He then received a handoff on the opening kickoff of the second half to go the 95 yards.

Helix’s Carl Fackrell recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown to get the Highlanders on the board, however, Greenfield, then a senior, had a 9-yard score to put the Vikings back up by two TDs.

The Highlanders scored in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard reception by Bob Kelley from Ernie Merk that saw Kelley “flying around left end,” according to the game report.

Thus, in keeping with the obvious alternating schedule, the now-Scotties return the visit and head to historic Gene Edwards Field at now-Scripps Stadium for the first time in 67 years.

La Jolla seeks to complete its third-ever undefeated season. The Vikes were also unbeaten in 1993 (13-0), and 1935 (9-0), a season which was capped by a first-place showdown win over Grossmont, 20-12, in the regular-season finale for the Metropolitan League title.

The matchup came about as both Helix and Steele Canyon had continued to passively seek out opponents to replace a scheduled second meeting on the six-week schedule.

Both teams will get a great test heading into next season. The rescheduling effect for East County teams gives several of the finales a “bowl game” type of feel, this one included, despite the Scotties’ loss last week in the Grossmont Hills League “championship game” at Granite Hills.

The Vikings have reached No. 6 in the local media poll and continue to be one of the county’s brightest stories. They’ll even break out new threads for this one, complete with nameplates.

La Jolla (4-0) hung a 30-point loss on the host Christian Patriots last week at Valley Stadium despite the first-quarter ejection of their highly effective quarterback. The team was easily able to replace the star and regroup to pull away. The Vikings have six standout players who have declared to play college football next season.

Helix (2-3) played commendably against the Eagles in last week’s defeat against a team that finally met its destiny. However, these guys are trying to avoid becoming just the second Highlander team in 45 years to finish with a sub-.500 record.

The Highlanders, especially this group of seniors, can hold their head high if they can register what could only be considered an upset here of the Vikes… LA JOLLA, 31-28.

No. 2 CARLSBAD (4-0) at No. 5 GRANITE HILLS (5-0) –
The Eagles and Lancers have been rewarded with a terrific matchup as part of the schedule shuffle and county football fans couldn’t be more thrilled.

It’s hard to argue that the Cathedral Catholic Dons can be declared the county champs for this special spring season, although the suddenly-maligned Dons will have to re-aim their focus for one more week against a familiar Madison club.

That leaves a crack in the door for these clubs to claim at least a possible runner-up title, if not the top spot, with a victory at Valley Stadium on Friday night.

Don’t blame the Eagles if they aren’t through celebrating last week’s historic victory just yet, but these guys are good enough to remain focused for a second consecutive week, although the impressive Lancers come in as a likely favorite here.

It helps that Granite knew that this game was already on deck prior to the showdown with the Highlanders. However, there was no need to look ahead here with the Eagles’ obvious goal squarely in front of them, now accomplished.

East County Player of the Year Justus McComb and Co. can go out and play loose in this one. And that makes the Eagles a dangerous home underdog.

McComb, a hard-working quarterback who expectedly developed himself into the player he desired to be, has a business-like focus but is like the boss who doesn’t make it seem like work.

A player just as deserving of the Lancers’ attention is Matt Keeley, a two-way star for the Eagles who finishes his career as one of the conference’s top players.

The first-and-only meeting between these two came back in 2011 – a CIF first-round game at CHS, won by the Lancers, 49-7, ouch! Christian Varner scored the Eagle TD on that night, but that Granite group was just a .500 ballclub during the regular season.

The Lancers are super-balanced, extremely talented, and deep, rolling their four opponents by an average of more than five touchdowns… CARLSBAD, 35-28.

SANTA FE CHRISTIAN (5-0) at GROSSMONT (1-3) – The Eagles have long been familiar with the trip to the East County, but that used to be to play section rival Christian High.

SFC will travel here in successive weeks after defeating Mount Miguel here last Friday, 28-14.

Santa Fe Christian was supposed to play at Classical Academy tonight but the Caimens had to cancel due to health concerns. Grossmont, of course, was looking all along to replace a second meeting with Granite Hills, so the result is another “postseason” type matchup.

Against the Matadors, the Eagles’ Stephen Britton rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns, including a backbreaking 91-yard score just before halftime.

Grossmont, meanwhile, got off to a swift start at Steele Canyon, taking a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter when Nate Acevedo continued his awesome spring season with a 52-yard touchdown on a reception from quarterback Justin Brown.

However, the Foothillers wouldn’t score again until the final minute of the game, falling to the Cougars, 34-17.

The Eagles have made other trips to play Grossmont Conference teams in recent memory, as well, losing at Helix in 2007 and 2010, as well as, shocking third-seeded Monte Vista, 27-17, in a 2018 playoff game.

The series is 1-1, with the home team winning both times in a home-and-home in 2009-10. The Hillers lost at SFC, 24-19, then won at home, 23-14. Desean Waters led that Grossmont victory with two touchdown runs and 256 yards of total offense, giving the Foothillers a 4-0 start for the first time since 2004.

Despite the disparity in the records, this one rates pretty close… GROSSMONT, 24-21.

This game – not on the “original” season schedule –  was going on six years in the making but these neighbors will finally meet for the first time since 2015 – although that resulted in a 40-0 Steele Canyon shellacking.

After two wins and a tie against the Cougars when Steele Canyon first opened, the Monarchs have now lost the last seven crosstown dates.

And while there has been a class difference between these seemingly would-be rivals over the last few seasons as Steele has tinkered in the county top ten of late, this time around, the outcome shouldn’t be so certain.

The Cougars will be expected to be the favorite here, especially after the performance against the Foothillers.

Sophomore running back Major Givens rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns and Steele Canyon had eight sacks against Grossmont, including three by Finley O’Gorman

Of course, getting to the quarterback isn’t a priority against the Monarchs, who employ their own well-engineered run game.

Although give Monte Vista’s underrated quarterback Jayson Mikha credit for his two touchdown passes in the first half last week against El Capitan – a loss which likely cost the Monarchs co-bragging rights to this notable season.

This game likely will be completed quickly… STEELE CANYON 28-13.

SANTANA (4-0) at WEST HILLS (1-3) –
Last season, the Sultans snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Wolf Pack, 27-13, to finally regain the city trophy.

Considering how well the Sultans played back in 2019 it was obvious that the Pack was up to the task on that night, giving one of their best efforts of the season despite the result.

West Hills quarterback Braden Oberg threw a touchdown pass in the first quarter that brought the Pack to within 7-6. The score was 14-6 after three quarters. Oberg threw a second touchdown pass in the fourth quarter which got his team – a considerable underdog in the contest – back within two scores with five minutes left in the game.

The Sultans have accomplished a second-straight very successful season and know that a loss here would certainly put some tarnish on their achievements.

But this still isn’t necessarily a gimme. This Santana unit is quite different from the one that dented the scoreboard in last season’s meeting.

And the Sultans will have to likely get by without the Grossmont Valley League’s best player – Michael Richter – who was feared to have suffered a serious knee injury in last week’s “surprising” 21-13 close win over Valhalla. Santana may have others still on the injury list from the game against the Norsemen, as well.

One player who had an impact in last year’s game against West Hills is Nick Brase. Brase had to pick up his contribution with several of his teammates out of the lineup.

Still, this series belongs to West Hills (22-9 overall, including 15-4 this century) and it would take years for Santana to reverse the trend.

With a victory, the Sultans can wholeheartedly claim themselves as the Grossmont Valley League’s best team this season… SANTANA, 21-14.

CHRISTIAN (2-2) at MISSION BAY (1-2) – Christian ran into the La Jolla juggernaut last Saturday.

Still, Christian High senior Jack St. Fleur, who was thought to be out for the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury suffered last month, returned to the lineup and rushed for a touchdown in the first half.

Christian leads the all-time series just 6-5 but the Buccaneers haven’t come close in the past three meetings.

These teams last met on the Bucs’ turf back in 2017 but the Patriots, behind eight touchdown passes from Brad Jeremiah, rolled up a 68-12 victory – a game that left both teams with some hard feelings following the contest as Mission Bay’s staff accused Christian of running up the score.

We know this, the Bucs will pass with Clash Orsborn, who threw for over 350 yards last week and three touchdowns against Hoover.

The Bucs lost to Patriots’ common opponent La Jolla, two weeks ago, 63-3… CHRISTIAN, 35-21.

HOOVER (0-3) at EL CAJON VALLEY (0-4) –
Clarence Johnson caught the decisive touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Malone in a 20-19 Braves win over the Cards back in Week 2 of 2019. The Braves limited Hoover to just 111 yards of total offense in that one.

Johnson rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown in last week’s home loss to West Hills. He also had an interception in the contest.

Meanwhile, sophomore Joshua McComb caught a touchdown pass from Malone but the Braves spotted the Wolf Pack a two-score lead midway through the first quarter.

While both teams come in looking for that memorable win in the 2020-21 season, the Braves should be considered a reasonable favorite here… EL CAJON VALLEY, 20-13.


EL CAPITAN (2-3) at VALHALLA (0-5) –
The El Capitan Vaqueros and Valhalla Norsemen will meet in the final game of the 2021 East County spring football season at 5:30 on Saturday.

El Capitan is finishing the season strong, as Savigon Yokley and Xavier Peace each scored on 79-yard runs last week as the Vaqueros knocked off Monte Vista, 23-21, in Lakeside. Peace pinballed his way for the game’s decisive touchdown – a 36-yard run late in the third quarter.

Despite their underdog role, the Norsemen know that this is a legitimate chance the earn the victory they deserve this season.

Valhalla nearly shocked Santana last Friday as Hussain Bakir rushed for 94 yards and quarterback Luke Pillsbury scored two touchdowns, including a score early in the second half that five the Norsemen a 14-13 lead against the league’s best team.

One of the Grossmont Conference’s most competitive series, these two teams have split the last 12 meetings with neither club winning more than twice in a row. El Cap leads the all-time series, 23-19… EL CAPITAN, 24-19.

MOUNTAIN EMPIRE (0-5) vs. PALO VERDE VALLEY (2-1) – The RedHawks game against Palo Verde Valley will be held at Southwest High in El Centro on Saturday. The game time is 11 a.m.

RedHawk freshman quarterback Corey Vann threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to senior Marcus Smith on the final play of the game last week. Smith also had 10 tackles and an interception.

The RedHawks won the only previous meeting – a 10-0 decision in Campo back in 1988… PALO VERDE VALLEY, 20-14.


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