East County Sports

East County Fearless Forecaster – Week 10

Santana junior Linden Benson. / Vanilla Gorilla






SANTEE – The Santana Sultans will be playing for their chance to share the Grossmont Valley League championship on Friday night when they host crosstown rival West Hills.

The Sultans would need two things to happen in order to share the league title but step one comes in the city championship game for the Santee Mayor’s Cup.

The storyline continues on the visitor’s sideline where the Wolf Pack are looking to improve on a perfect 4-0 league mark, trying to keep pace with league co-leader El Capitan (5-0 after a 38-0 win over Monte Vista on Thursday night) and force a winner-take-all championship game next Friday in Lakeside.

If Santana (3-5, 3-1 GVL) can upset West Hills (6-2 overall), the Sultans can earn a share of the league title should the Pack then turn around and beat the Vaqueros in next week’s finale.

But first things first.

The Wolf Pack has to be considered around a 3-to-7-point favorite in a game that figures to feature plenty of defense. After all, the Sultans’ game against El Cap played on this same field featured just one touchdown as the Vaqueros took a 7-0 victory in the other major key game this season in the league.

The scenario was the same last season when West Hills won, 23-7, on its home blue turf to beat Santana for the ninth time in the last 10 meetings. The win set up the same league championship showdown the following week on the same field when the Pack defeated the Vaqueros for their first league title in seven years.

Last season, however, the Sultans were hobbling into that game with several injuries on both sides of the ball, while the Wolf Pack were riding a season-long win streak on the way to a 10-0 regular season finish.

West Hills leads the all-time series, 28-9, including 17-4 since 2000.

Santana junior Alex Rico made his first start as a varsity quarterback in last year’s game and passed for 108 yards but the Wolf Pack were a juggernaut in terms of this league’s history.

Although this year’s West Hills team may not be on par with that historic squad, a win here would set up the anticipated showdown between the Pack and Vaqueros.

West Hills and El Capitan are rated so closely that the unofficial major computer ratings have the teams ranked right next to each other with the Vaqueros just a couple of decimal points ahead of the Wolf Pack.

The San Diego Section’s official playoff power rankings have the Wolf Pack and Vaqueros tied (42.25) with the Sultans (41.25) just behind the undefeated league duo.

The game for Santana may even be more crucial, as Santana currently stands in 12th place in the section’s Division III numbers, which would have them just inside the playoff bracket.

A win for the Sultans would also virtually assure their inclusion in the postseason, while a loss could put the team’s chances in jeopardy, especially considering next week’s final for Santana is against the upstart El Cajon Valley Braves at Community Stadium.

The Braves are having their best season in 17 years and the matchup with the Sultans is the current “measuring stick” matchup in the league for El Cajon Valley’s current progression.

For now, West Hills will bring a defense arguably just as strong as El Capitan’s into tonight’s game, which makes a low-scoring game seem extremely likely.

The Vaqueros needed just the one touchdown, which came on a long pass play, to knock off host Santana on Sept. 30.

West Hills junior quarterback Collin Dill has over 1,200 yards of total offense this season and is the team’s leading rusher (564 yards).

But it’s the Pack’s defense that is the calling card of this year’s club, led by seniors Braden Wilson, Jack Tracy, and Lance Briseno.

Santana’s offense scored just 35 points in the season’s first four games – all losses – but has fared much better in league play outside of the El Cap game.

The Sultans have averaged nearly 40 points in their three GVL victories over Valhalla, Mount Miguel, and Monte Vista.

Santana junior Linden Benson rushed for 114 yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago in a 36-7 win over the Monarchs.

Another junior, Isaiah Lloyd, has emerged as one of the conference’s best defensive players and is joined by senior Logan Ellis in the Sultan linebacker corps.

The Sultans come into tonight’s contest off their bye week, as well, but will it be enough? … WEST HILLS, 13-10.


No. 6 HELIX at GROSSMONT — The Helix Highlanders will not be playing in this year’s Open Division playoffs.

The current formula used by the section to determine division ranking does the Highlanders no favors.

The Scotties’ placement in the Grossmont Valley League doesn’t help much, either.

Despite a media poll ranking of fifth, and a computer rating of sixth in the section, Helix currently sits ninth in the Division I section power rankings.

That wouldn’t even be enough for a first-round bye.

A couple of factors go into the section’s poor ranking for Helix.

The first is that the Highlanders probably aren’t properly awarded any strength of schedule points for their 2-1 out-of-section record this season, which includes a win over Anaheim Servite and a loss to Mission Viejo, the state’s No. 5-ranked team.

Also, the Scotties lost to section rival Cathedral Catholic on a controversial non-call when a Dons running back fumbled before reaching the end zone on a play that was ruled a game-deciding touchdown.

A third fact is that two of the Grossmont Hills League’s four teams are in Division II this season, including this year’s championship rival Granite Hills. Teams are awarded less “points” for wins over teams from lower divisions.

This historic rivalry against Grossmont has no energy left at this point. The Foothillers are currently in a modern-day low and heading for their first winless season since 1998.

Grossmont has suffered four consecutive shutouts.

Helix (6-2, 1-0 GHL), meanwhile, will use the game as prep for next week’s Grossmont Hills League title game against Granite Hills (6-2 1-0 GHL), providing the heavily-favored Eagles defeat visiting Steele Canyon tonight.

In fact, the section’s power ranking system has the Highlanders and Eagles tied in “points” earned.

There is no easy fix for Helix’s dilemma. The short three-game schedule in the Grossmont Hills League forces the Highlanders to find opponents in weeks when the other teams in Division I have already started their own league seasons, leaving the Scots scrambling for comparable opponents who are willing to accept the match.

With the Foothillers’ current decline, including dropping the junior varsity schedule this season, Helix will not be able to likely earn those points back anytime soon through the Hills League in seasons to come unless they can find a way to adjust their non-league schedule to accommodate more local Division I teams that they can defeat regularly.

Still, the Scotties figure to be a top contender in Division I even if they have to play on the road in the division semifinals against the likes of a team like La Costa Canyon or El Camino.

As for now, the Foothillers may be having a little fun running a viral video that shows students stepping on a piece of paper with green letters that spell out “Helix” but Grossmont players this season will only be able to claim that they once played against the Highlanders, who have defeated the Hillers in 26 consecutive meetings dating back to 1991… HELIX, 56-0.


CHRISTIAN at LA JOLLA — The Patriots have played their way into a championship-deciding game on Friday night at La Jolla but got some bad news on Wednesday when it was learned that standout wide receiver Joey Merritt would miss the remainder of the season.

Christian (4-4, 2-0 Eastern) has been up and down this season, to say the least, but the Patriots’ upset of Mira Mesa last Friday night has propelled them into a position to sweep their final two opponents – La Jolla (5-3, 1-0) and San Diego – and win the Eastern League championship outright.

The Patriots are rated higher than both the Vikings and Cavers but the back-to-back road games will be no easy task, especially without Merritt, one of the top pass-catching playmakers in the county.

Christian High quarterback Jake Davila has a life-long bond with his top target which makes his pal’s absence certainly heartbreaking.

Merritt is definitely ruled out with a fractured fibula suffered in practice this week.

Davila passed for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the upset win over the ranked Marauders.

Senior Hunter Provience had five receptions for 146 yards, including a crucial 79-yard pass reception for a touchdown from Davila.

La Jolla leads this all-time series, 10-3, and has won three straight over the Patriots, including a 35-7 shocker last season as the Vikings recorded three interceptions.

The Vikings possess a potent passing game with junior quarterback Jackson Diehl, who has thrown for over 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Certainly, Christian has proved it can win a big game with its still-potent passing game and improved rushing effort, as well.

Mira Mesa was ranked in the top ten when it came to Valley Stadium and exited with a loss but this Patriots’ crew seems to win as underdogs and lose when favorites… LA JOLLA, 35-31.


STEELE CANYON at GRANITE HILLS — The Cougars can play spoiler here against the Eagles but will enter the game as considerable underdogs in a recent rivalry that has featured some of the East County’s most thrilling games over the last half-a-dozen years.

Still, Granite Hills (6-2, 1-0 Grossmont Hills League) will have to prove it is championship-ready against Steele Canyon (1-7, 0-1 GHL).

A win for the Eagles would set up a winner-take-all showdown with the Helix Highlanders on this very field next Friday night.

Granite Hills’ current winning trajectory and home-field advantage give the Eagles a terrific chance to make the game against Helix one of the most anticipated challenges to Helix’s latest dominant league run since Steele Canyon shocked the Highlanders, 22-21, on the final night of the season in 2018, which caused a rare three-way tie for the title.

The Eagles’ two losses this season have come to two of the top five teams in the county – Madison and Poway.

Since Steele Canyon opened, these teams have met every season except 2014 when Granite was in the Grossmont Valley League.

Over the past decade, this has been the East County’s closest series.

Included are three one-point games, a two-point game, and a pair of three-point games.

One of the biggest games was a 2017 CIF semifinal game won by visiting Steele Canyon, 28-27. when the Eagles failed on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.

Steele Canyon leads the series, 13-6, but the Cougars have fallen behind the Eagles for the time being… GRANITE HILLS, 35-14.


VALHALLA at MOUNT MIGUEL — The East County’s longest continuous series resumes as the teams have met every year since Valhalla’s first varsity season in 1975.

The teams have split the last 10 meetings, as well as, the last 20 clashes, although Mount Miguel has won the last four meetings.

How close has the series been?

In the last 23 meetings, the series is tied, 11-11-1 (tie in 1999), and in the last 31 meetings the series is tied, 14-14-1.

The all-time series, however, stands at 30-17-1, in favor of the Matadors, who enjoyed an early dominance in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Matadors figure to win for the fifth-straight time.

Mount Miguel (3-6, 1-4 Grossmont Valley League), which is playing its season finale, is fighting for a playoff spot in Division IV but figures to qualify with a win tonight.

The Matadors could have a big night as they have performed well when heavily favored.

Valhalla (0-8, 0-4 GVL) is trying to avoid its third winless season over the last five years.

The Norsemen will have that chance when they host closely-rated Monte Vista next Friday night… MOUNT MIGUEL, 33-13.

CLASSICAL ACADEMY at MOUNTAIN EMPIRE — It’s hard to know where the RedHawks stand following their forfeit loss last week to La Jolla Country Day.

Nonetheless, the Caimans will be big favorites here providing Mountain Empire (2-6, 0-2) is able to field a team this week for the Pacific League matchup.

Mountain Empire still sits inside the Division V playoff picture but has scored just one touchdown this season in five on-field losses, suffering three consecutive shutouts before last week’s forfeit. Overall, MEHS has just 48 total pts in 7 on-field games (plus the forfeit).

The RedHawks host winless Orange Glen next week, which could provide them with their chance to solidify a playoff berth, although that game still will be very closely-rated.

This is just the second meeting between Classical Academy and Mountain Empire, with the first coming in 2012 (a 58-16 RedHawk win at home)… CLASSICAL ACADEMY, 28-7.


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