After winning last year’s San Diego Section Division I football championship title, the Eastlake Titans haven’t exactly been hiding out this season. That much has been apparent from the weekly rankings poll that has placed the Titans second to the Vista Panthers, last year’s Division I runners-up, for the bulk of the 2010 season.
Following the previously undefeated Panthers’ 31-28 loss to Mission Hills last Friday, Eastlake (8-0 overall, 2-0 in Mesa League play) moved up a notch as the section’s new No. 1-ranked team in the weekly San Diego Sportswriters/Sportscasters poll. Vista (7-1 overall, 2-1 in Avocado East League play) dropped all the way down to No. 6.
The Panthers had been the section’s media darling by occupying the No. 1 ranking all season long.
The Titans, meanwhile, currently own the section’s longest active winning streak at 19 games and are in the midst of a 21-game unbeaten streak (19-0-2) heading into Friday’s east side rivalry game showdown against the visiting Bonita Vista Barons.
EHS head coach John McFadden called his team’s No. 1 ranking a “great honor.”
“It doesn’t mean a lot if you don’t play well,” he said. “It rewards playing well and winning. In order to stay up there, we’re going to have to continue to play well and stay ahead of our opponents.”
The Titans are among just five teams in the section that remain undefeated with two weeks remaining in regular season play. Joining Eastlake in the unbeaten ledger are the Torrey Pines Falcons, also in Division I, Helix in Division II, Valley Center in Division IV and Bishop’s in Division V. All five teams sport 8-0 records.
Helix (3-0 in Grossmont Hills League play) moves up to No. 2 in the section rankings from No. 3 while Torrey Pines (3-0 in Palomar League play) moves up to No. 3, Valley Center (2-0 in Valley League play) moves up to No. 4 and defending Division II champion Oceanside (6-2 overall, 2-0 in Avocado West League play) moves up to No. 5.
In contrast to the national college polls, where a loss can send the No. 1 team crashing down the rankings, McFadden feels there is a bit more consistency in the high school rankings.
“The top five or six high school teams have pretty much been the same all season, it’s just a matter of what order you place them in,” he said.
Eastlake will defend its No. 1 section ranking in Friday’s east side rivalry game against visiting Bonita Vista: the teams’ annual Battle for the Boot contest.
The Barons, who were rated a prime contender for the league title in preseason polls, started the season 0-5 but have won three of their last four games to climb back in contention for a Division II playoff berth at 3-6 as well as the league title with a 2-1 league record. Bonita Vista has a chance to not only further scramble the rankings but, in the process, force a possible tri-championship (with Otay Ranch and Eastlake) by bringing down the No. 1 Titans on Friday.
That fact is not lost upon McFadden.
“They’re solid and have been getting better each week,” the EHS coach said. “They always seem to play their best game against us, so we’ll have to play our best game against them. I’m sure Carl (BV head coach Carl Parrick) will get them fired up. I’m excited about the game.”
Battle for the Boot
Both teams come in Friday’s game with a win in their last outing. Parrick is the section’s winningest active coach.
Joel Gutierez passed for two touchdowns and Felix Garcia rushed for two scores to lead a revitalized Baron squad past Chula Vista, 44-7, in last Friday’s Mesa League match-up at Southwestern College. Benjamin Henry scored on a 63-yard interception return, Jake Kemp scored on an 11-yard run and Nathan Drum kicked a 38-yard field goal to go with five extra-point conversions.
Gutierez opened scoring in the game on an eight-yard pass to Ryan Miguel. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the Barons with a 6-0 lead.
The Spartans (0-2 in league play, 1-7 overall) took a one-point lead on the scoreboard following a seven-yard scoring pass from CV quarterback Ricky Estevez to Ray Holden. But after the successful extra-point kick, the only scoring in the game — 38 unanswered points — was done by the hosts.
The BV defense came prepared to play, limiting the Spartans to 78 rushing yards and 90 passing yards.
Eastlake has been idle since topping host Chula Vista, 42-14, on Oct. 22. That game saw the return of running back Jude Isbell (from a concussion) but the departure of running back Aaron Baltazar (from knee injury suffered the prior week).
Isbell leads the Titans with 848 rushing yards and has scored eight touchdowns. Baltazar has rushed for 539 yards and seven touchdowns in a handful of games during Isbell’s absence.
“Obviously, we’d like to have that tandem back together on offense and defense to make us a better team,” McFadden said.
Overall, Eastlake is averaging 340 rushing yards per game and 121 passing yards per game.
Chris Fletcher (454 rushing yards, 312 receiving yards) and Zach Bannon (278 rushing yards, 121 receiving yards) remain the team’s multi-purpose weapons while Travis Gardner paces the receivers with 18 catches for 328 yards. Fletcher has scored six touchdowns while Bannon has scored five TDs. Tavarus Green, one of the team’s up-and-coming younger players, has scored four touchdowns this season.
Both quarterbacks — Jordan Hines and Josh Palet — have performed well. Hines has thrown for 578 yards and six TDs while Palet has thrown for 388 yards and four scores.
The Titan defense continues to excel. Jesse Lapid leads EHS with 50 tackles ahead of teammates Kiki Fejeran (43 stops) and Blake Wilson (39 hits). Wilson has nine sacks while Fernando Cabico has four interceptions.
As a team, the Titans have amassed 17 sacks and 11 picks in eight games.
Eastlake has retained the teams’ rivalry game trophy since 2006.
San Diego Section
SD Sportswriters/Sportscasters Poll
(Through Oct. 30)
1. Eastlake Titans 8-0
2. Helix Highlanders 8-0
3. Torrey Pines Falcons 8-0
4. Valley Center Jaguars 8-0
5. Oceanside Pirates 6-2
6. Vista Panthers 7-1
7. Steele Canyon Cougars 7-1
8. Mission Hills Grizzlies 6-2
9. Mt. Miguel Matadors 7-1
10. (tie) La Costa Canyon Mavs 5-3
10. (tie) Rancho Bernardo 6-2
Honorable mention: Poway (6-2), Olympian (7-1), Cathedral Catholic (4-4), Madison (6-2), Grossmont (7-1)