East County Sports

Scotties, Crusaders meet in division semi

Helix sophomore linebacker Kairo Kahananui. / P.J. Panebianco

2021 EAST COUNTY PREP FOOTBALL

EAST COUNTY FEARLESS FORECASTER

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DIVISION 2-AA REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

 

EastCountySports.com staff report

 

CHULA VISTA – The Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders were surely going to be one of the top teams in the county heading into the season.

They’ll likely be one of the top clubs in the San Diego Section next season, as well.

A lot was made of the Crusaders’ placement in Division III but potential isn’t a category used in deciding where to put teams for the upcoming campaign.

And it won’t be in the future, either.

Despite its success this season, Mater Dei is headed to Division II next year, unless the school requests to be considered for the county’s top division (Division I), which is made up of 16 teams.

In an interview this week, section commissioner Joe Heinz seemed steadfast in the by-law that allows programs to move up only one division per year unless the request to move up further is granted.

That will prevent the Crusaders from competing for the section’s premier title in the Open Division.

And that probably suits them just fine, although the program’s growth and potential will soon force the team into the top-tier two seasons down the line.

That doesn’t matter anyway when it comes to the state playoffs, where the State CIF officials make determinations on which teams meet when competing for a CIF State title.

And that’s how and why the Helix Highlanders were chosen as the opponent for Mater Dei in tonight’s Southern California Division 2-AA regional championship game to be played on the Crusaders’ home field.

The Highlanders, despite being champions of Division I, will be forced to play on the road against the champions of Division III for a right to advance to the state division title game next week.

Yup, you heard that right.

The state uses its own formula for determining a team’s strength and the Crusaders finished ahead of the Highlanders in its power rating calculation.

In other words, the local CIF’s formula appears to be a little slow in helping determine the strength of its teams, which is important nowadays, since transfers and private schools can turn teams from contenders to champions in just one season, not two or three.

There’s no doubt that the undefeated Crusaders (11-0) are the likely favorite tonight against Helix (9-3) after going undefeated, however, the teams had a regular-season meeting against one another canceled due to health protocols, as Mater Dei Catholic had a devil of a time with a multi-week outbreak within the team.

And while many fans and media expressed concerns that two local section teams were going to have to face off in order to advance, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the game is a terrific matchup that really should be made.

Mater Dei Catholic finished third in the section’s media poll with the Highlanders right behind them in fourth. It should be noted that the Crusaders played a dramatically easier schedule.

When next season starts, Helix will once again be an Open Division contender as one of a handful of teams atop Division I, while Mater Dei Catholic will be regarded as the No. 17 team, technically, by the section’s divisional placement, where they will be a big favorite to win another section division title.

In tonight’s state divisional semifinal, the Highlanders will need to slow a team that really appears unbeatable.

The Crusaders aren’t a one-year wonder. The strength of their program is realized with this year’s club and should continue well into the future, especially considering almost all of their top stars return next year, as well.

Mater Dei passed for nearly 3,000 yards this season and ran for almost 2,000 more in just 11 games. By contrast, Helix has more than 1,000 fewer yards and played one extra game.

Helix has a similar plethora of underclass talent, but with some senior stars, as well.

Last week, the Lincoln Hornets, for all of their talent, couldn’t really stop Helix’s star rusher Christian Washington.

The task for Helix’s offense, however, may be doubly difficult against the Crusaders’ defense led by four-star linebacker and run-stopper extraordinaire Tre Edwards, who could be on a professional career trajectory.

Yes, the Scotties’ passing game has improved dramatically over the course of the season but Mater Dei’s defense appears super-elite.

Offensively, the Crusaders won’t have it easy against Helix’s young studs on defense, a group which will be among the best in the county again next season.

However, Mater Dei Catholic may end up with a dramatic advantage in starting field position, which could prove the difference.

The winner will face the northern California champion, either Central Catholic, of Modesto, or Bullard, of Fresno… MATER DEI CATHOLIC, 28-14.

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