Lone Pine QB Robert Hunter has logged 1,181 yards in the air and 303 on the ground this season. Photo by Deb Murphy
Tomorrow evening two Owens Valley high school football squads will take one more step in the CIF playoffs.
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The Bishop Broncos have been there before and as the number one seed in the Northeast Division are expected to go far in the bracket. They start that process against Viewport (7-3) at 6:30 p.m. in John Schwab Stadium.
For the Lone Pine Golden Eagles, itâ€™s a new adventure. Theyâ€™ve already conquered their jitters and first round opponent, Lancaster Baptist. In tomorrowâ€™s game at Lone Pine, they face the number two seed in the Division 1 8-Man bracket, the Excelsior Education Center Eagles (9-1).
Both coaches, Bishopâ€™s Bill Egan and Lone Pineâ€™s Chris Riesen, have been walking that politically correct tightrope between confidence and swagger, emphasizing one game at a time and working hard to eliminate mistakes. Egan slipped a little, regretting the loss of the coin toss for home field advantage in round two, the closest heâ€™s ever come to predicting a win, publicly.
For Riesen, this is all unexplored territory. The Eagles, like the Broncos, went through their league like a warm knife through butter. The only come-from-behind win in a 9-0 season came early in pre-league against Tonopah.
The Eagles beat Lancaster by three TDs. According to Riesen in an interview before the Lancaster game, nobody really knows how good the Eagles are. â€śWe donâ€™t really know how good we are either,â€ť he said. But, there are nine teams who have a pretty good clue.
As the 2010 CIF champions, the Broncos are known to be good. Their only loss, 7-42 to Sierra Canyon, came early in pre-league. At that point, Bishop had few seasoned starters with a roster of 2010 second-stringers and players up from JV. They are a different team today.
All this wondering sends us to the numbers, the hallowed stats that most coaches will tell you donâ€™t mean much. But, itâ€™s all weâ€™ve got and there are roughly 30 hours until kickoff.
Eganâ€™s assessment is that the Patriots are a â€śpretty good, well-coached little team.â€ť The Pats finished third in the tough Prep League. The only team in common with the Broncos are the Chadwick Dolphins. Bishop beat Chadwick 44-27 early in pre-league; Viewpoint lost to Chadwick 20-26.
According to Egan, the Patriots have many of the same strengths as Chadwick: a tall, strong quarterback in Joey Verhaegh, a pair of solid running backs in Adam Markun and Dakota Williams and a good line.
Stat-for-stat Bronco quarterback Chance Callahanâ€™s 77 percent pass completion and 865 rushing yards to date is more impressive than Verhaeghâ€™s 45 percent and 347 total rushing yards.
Viewpointâ€™s Markun and Williams have carried for 1,407 of the Patriotsâ€™ 1,842 yards, with Markun leading at 744 total yards.
The Broncosâ€™ strength this season has been the depth and talent of its arsenal. Three Bronco backs have more yardage than Markun: Callahan, Jaime Ruelas at 756 and Ryan Devore at 745. While the balance of Viewpointâ€™s rushers are in double-digit yardage, Bishop has Evan Richman at 285 and Dustin Waasdorp at 104. If a team manages to corral the top three Bronco rushers, Bishop has seasoned alternatives.
The difference in the teamsâ€™ ground games are obvious: Viewpoint averages 204 yards per game; Bishop, 314, a testament to the quality of the Broncosâ€™ offensive line.
Viewpointâ€™s passing game is relatively one dimensional. Itâ€™s name is wide-out Darian Fardghassemi with 24 receptions for 587 yards and 6 TDs. Two other receivers in double digit receptions are Amir Karlan at 15 with an 11-yard average and mid-range go-to-guy Noah Doneen with 12 and an 18-yard average.
Again, Bishop has depth: Matt Babb, 14 receptions for 322 yards; Cy Scott, 15 for 266 yards; Ruelas, 14 for 225 and Kyle Batchelder, 10 for 125.
Both teamsâ€™ defenses line up fairly equally. Neither are big, both are fast. The Broncos nose out the Patriots on most stats, except interceptions.
If round one for Bishop was played out on paper, the Broncos would win.
For the Golden Eagles, theyâ€™ll have to rely on the worn adage â€śthe bigger they are, the harder they fall.â€ť
Excelsior is humongous in every sense of the word with an enrollment 10 times that of Lone Pine, a 31-man roster and three linemen in the 300-lb. range. Two of the behemoths are on the offensive line. Lido Lynn, coming in at 6-foot, 5-inches and 305 lbs., plays both sides of the ball. Heâ€™s not a super-tackler, but has logged 11 sacks during the season.
Excelsior has no passing game to speak of. QB Darren Corbin has a completion percentage of 63, but only 28 completed passes over a 10-game season.
According to Riesen, all-run-no-pass is typical 8-man, giving Lone Pine and QB Robert Hunter an advantage, one that has come in handy all season long at third or fourth and long situations.
In the face of big, defensive teams, like Tonopah, Hunterâ€™s arm has put big numbers on the board for Lone Pine.
Casey Sullivan (22 receptions for 505 yards) and Seth Muniz (19 for 437) are Hunterâ€™s ready targets.
Plus, Hunter can run (54 carries for 303 yards) as can Mike Palsrok (45 for 234), Gabe Galindo (67 for 345) and Alec Garcia (41 for 248).
On the other hand, Excelsiorâ€™s Kyle Washington has 1,280 yards worth of gridiron this season with Joseph Harrison a close second at 1,261.
Other than that, on paper the teamsâ€™ defensive numbers give Lone Pine a slight edge.
Excelsior played their first round game last Saturday, a game Riesen scouted. His assessment is daunting. â€śWe have to be perfect, Excelsior has to make mistakes.â€ť
The Golden Eagles have been stellar so far; a perfect game is doable.