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Metro-Mesa League Preview: Could Eastlake Titans be headed for another CIF football title? Phillip Brents | Fri, Sep 02 2011 12:51 AM

The Eastlake High School football team had its memory-making 24-game unbeaten streak snapped following a 20-0 loss to the Mira Mesa Marauders in last year’s San Diego Section Division I semifinal playoffs. While it was a disappointing ending to the season — and officially ended the Titans’ reign as defending Division I champions — head coach John McFadden’s crew enters the 2011 season with a renewed sense of purpose and pride: to reclaim what once was theirs.

“The loss (to Mira Mesa) was very disappointing,” conceded senior running back Jude Isbell. “(But) we’re pumped up about this season. We’re excited.”

With some rather surprising adjustments to the section’s divisional enrollment partitions, Eastlake appears to be the early season favorite to win this year’s Division I championship.

The Vista Panthers, who lost to the Titans in the 2009 championship game and defeated Mira Mesa last year to move to the top, have suffered major losses to graduation. The Panthers should still be highly rated among the division leaders this season. However, it also appears the entire division should exhibit much more parity this year.

“We should be in good shape,” McFadden said. “There are still some very good teams in Division I. But we should do well.”

The Titans kick off the new season with a Sept. 2 marquee match-up at Helix High School. Some are calling the game a match-up of the top teams in Division I (Eastlake) and Division II (Helix).

Eastlake’s schedule doesn’t get any easier after that. The Titans’ motto in 2011 appears to be to be the best, one must play the best.

The Titans open their home schedule with a Sept. 9 non-league game against Scripps Ranch, followed by road games at El Camino on Sept. 16 and Steele Canyon on Sept. 23.

Eastlake returns home for a highly anticipated non-league showdown against four-time defending Division III champion Cathedral Catholic on Sept. 30.

Eastlake hosts Montgomery in a non-league match-up on Oct. 7 before finally heading into Metro-Mesa League play against visiting Chula Vista on Oct. 14.

The annual Battle for the Boot rivalry game against Bonita Vista is scheduled Oct. 28 at Southwestern College. The Titans will host league newcomer (and 2010 Metro-Pacific League champion) Olympian on Nov. 4 and close out regular season play with a Nov. 10 game at Otay Ranch in what many are anticipating as this year’s league championship game.

Eastlake and Otay Ranch met twice last year, with the Titans winning both contests, including a hard-fought 21-17 quarterfinal-round playoff victory. 

How tough does the 2011 season schedule rate?

The Titans’ six non-league opponents boasted a combined 47-24-1 record last season. Overall, of Eastlake’s 10 regular season opponents, nine qualified for last year’s playoff field, including seven that saw action in the quarterfinals, four that advanced to the semifinals and one division champion (Cathedral Catholic).

Helix, the top team in the regular season last year, ended its season 11-1 overall with a loss in the Division II semifinals, while Steele Canyon (9-3) also had its season end one round short of making it to the Division II finals at Qualcomm Stadium.

Olympian (10-2) earned the No. 2 seed in the Division IV playoffs and made it as far as the semifinals.

Montgomery (8-4 in Division III) and Scripps Ranch (6-5-1 in Division II) were other quarterfinalists while El Camino (5-6 in Division I) and Bonita Vista (3-8 in Division II) both qualified for the first round.

Eastlake will tackle its challenging schedule with what, on paper at least, could rate as the section’s top ground game and perhaps one of the section’s best offensive units, period.

Senior Jude Isbell and junior Aaron Baltazar lead the Titan rushing game. They combined for 1,929 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, though both suffered missed games because of injuries. Isbell rushed for 1,344 yards and scored 11 touchdowns, averaging 10.42 yards per carry, while Baltazar gained 585 yards and scored seven TDs, averaging 9.44 yards per carry.

A healthy season could produce record-setting numbers.

Senior Josh Palet will handle the signal-calling duties. A hand injury hampered his throwing ability in last year’s loss to Mira Mesa and he will be motivated to bounce back to the forefront this season. He threw for 921 yards and seven touchdowns in split duty last year.

Palet’s main target rates to be Travis Gardner, who has already accepted a scholarship to play at Washington State. Gardner, who also is a gifted basketball player, caught 24 passes for 423 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.

Junior Tavarus Green also moves into the rotation at running back. He proved he was among the fastest runners in the South County at last spring’s Mesa League track and field championship meet by clocking 23.20 to win the 200-meter dash title and speeding to a runner-up finish in the 100 dash in 11.36. He broke off some exciting runs last season while helping to shore up the backfield, finishing with 374 rushing yards and six touchdowns, averaging 10.69 yards per carry.

Another fleet-footed addition will be senior wide-out Darran Hall, who won the Mesa League 400 dash title in 50.78.

Four returning linemen may be the real key to how the EHS offensive unit is able to rumble down field. They include Arturo Hurtado, Gabe Casillas, Eddy Campain and Braulio Gallegos.

“If we stay healthy, our offense will be pretty good,” McFadden said. “We have players who can run the ball, pass the ball and catch the ball. We can only stop ourselves. If we get going good, we should be good.”

The Titans also rate to do their share of helping stop other teams. Top defensive returners include senior Hermes Franco, a returning first team all-league linebacker, senior defensive end Zeke Ganzon, Casillas at defensive tackle, Isbell at strong safety and junior all-league outside linebacker Blake Wilson.

Wilson set a school record with 16 sacks last season.

Impact newcomers include sophomores Nasser Ali (linebacker), Isiah Olave (cornerback and z-back) and senior Ronnie Cortell (cornerback).

Cortell is the son of former Sweetwater star Ron Cortell, who earned honors as the 1984 San Diego Section Defensive Player of the Year.

“We look very good, very good on defense,” McFadden said. “We had a lot of good defensive backs last year but most of them graduated. But our front seven is returning. We should be physical up front. I think overall we will be improved from last year.”

The talent is there, and so is the team chemistry and enthusiasm.

Prior to a recent practice, team members broke into a spontaneous on-field chorus of the chant SDSU basketball fans made famous last season: “I believe that we can win.”

Said McFadden succinctly: “I’m excited about the season.”

Eastlake Titans 2011 Schedule

2: Eastlake at Helix
9: Scripps Ranch at Eastlake
16: Eastlake at El Camino
23: Eastlake at Steele Canyon
30: Cathedral Catholic at Eastlake
7: Montgomery at Eastlake
14: Chula Vista at Eastlake
21: Bye
28: Eastlake vs. Bonita Vista at Southwestern College
4: Olympian at Eastlake
10: Eastlake at Otay Ranch

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