The honor for hottest team in the Metro Conference, aside from the undefeated Olympian Eagles, might go to the Hilltop Lancers, who have gone from winless and woebegone to winners of five and of their last six games (with that only loss being in overtime).
The Lancers capped their second-half playoff drive last Friday with a 38-7 victory against the visiting San Ysidro Cougars to level their regular season record at 5-5 after a 0-4 start.
Hilltop, which narrowly missed last year’s Division II playoffs, was contending for home field advantage in this year’s post-season field. The Lancers looked to have it until the Orange Glen Patriots pulled off one of the San Diego Section’s bigger upsets this season by defeating the 13th-ranked Valley Center Jaguars, 42-38, last Friday.
The home field advantage quickly shifted to the eighth-seeded Patriots, who will host ninth-seeded Hilltop Friday in a first-round game at 7 p.m.
“The second half of the season has definitely gone better for us,” HHS head coach Cody Roelof said. “Our kids deserve to be in the CIF playoffs.”
The Lancers, who dropped a 20-19 overtime match-up against two-time defending Metro-South Bay League champion Mar Vista on Oct. 19, finished 2-1 in league play for the third consecutive year.
Mar Vista won its third straight league banner by defeating visiting Southwest, 63-14, last Friday in the teams’ annual Battle for the Bell rivalry game.
Roelof called the OT loss to the Mariners “bittersweet.”
But a new season obviously dawns in the playoffs.
“Our defense has played well, particularly in the second half of the season,” Roelof said.
Jovan Vera recorded a safety in last Friday’s game while Russell Ewbank blocked a punt and recovered the loose ball in the end zone for Hilltop’s final touchdown.
Hilltop is led offensively by sophomore quarterback Daniel Sanchez, who has grown into the position as the season has progressed. He’s passed for 955 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven picks this season.
Sanchez threw for 174 yards and one touchdown in the loss to Mar Vista. He totaled 211 passing yards and four TDs in a 44-15 non-league win against Castle Park.
Sanchez had 196 yards and passed for three scores against Bonita Vista (a 35-28 OT win).
But Sanchez has thrown four interceptions in his last two games.
The Lancers’ running game appears to be coming around at the right time. Hilltop rushed for 270 yards in the win over San Ysidro, including 80 yards on six carries by Montel Campbell.
Campbell ripped off a 64-yard run against the Cougars (4-6, 0-3).
Dustin Downs had 17 carries for 69 yards while Drake Madarang rushed five times for 51 yards.
Downs, Campbell and Sanchez (three carries, 13 yards) each scored touchdowns. Sanchez also passed 19 yards to Sergio Vidrio for a score.
Downs has become an impact performer by scoring clutch touchdowns in critical situations. He scored overtime touchdowns this season in games against Bonita Vista and Mar Vista.
Downs (104 carries, 575 yards) leads the team in scoring with nine touchdowns while Campbell (97 carries, 468 yards) has scored seven times.
Jared Akers paces the Lancers with 94 tackles, followed by teammates Ben Bernabe (60 stops) and Brian Contreras (50 tackles).
Hilltop has 54 sacks to its credit this season — 11 by 6-foot-3 Ewbank. Christian Sandoval leads the team with five picks.
Angel Galvan is averaging 37 yards on punts and has booted 23 extra-point conversions.
Hilltop has out-scored its opponents 227-207.
Orange Glen is 5-5 after finishing 2-2 in a tie for second place in the Valley League standings. The Patriots are 4-0 at home this season.
The OG defense was particularly aggressive in taming the Jaguars. The Patriots registered three sacks — two by Jacob Krummel and one by D’Andre Saxton. Josh Spina and Dylan Wilbur also made interceptions.
Neil Bonahoom leads Orange Glen with 166 tackles — almost triple the team’s next leading tackler.
The Patriots have 22 sacks and eight picks to their credit this season.
The Hilltop-Orange Glen winner gets No. 1-seed Oceanside (9-1) in the quarterfinals.
San Diego Section Playoff Previews
#11 Rancho Buena Vista (5-5) at #6 Chula Vista (6-4)
The host Spartans must right themselves after last Friday’s 56-17 non-league loss to visiting Tesoro. Ricky Estevez passed for 200 yards — 107 yards to Ray Holden — in a losing cause. Chula Vista is 2-4 in its last six games after starting the season 4-0. Estevez has passed for 1,599 yards and 15 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Holden (43 catches, 800 yards) and Richard Walker (36 catches, 476 yards) are his main targets. When Jevante Reed (1,391 rushing yards, 18 total touchdowns) gets going, watch out. The Spartans, with 26 rushing TDs, are averaging 205.9 rushing yards per game.
RBV, which is enjoying its best season in five years, is 2-5 against teams that have qualified for this year’s playoff field. The Longhorns are coming off last Friday’s 34-7 Avocado East League win over Fallbrook (1-9). Nico Cortez is a power runner and can match CV’s Reed yard-for-yard.
The winner gets No. 3 Grossmont (8-2).
#9 Carlsbad (4-6) at #8 Otay Ranch (6-4)
The host Mustangs will be out to break a nagging four-game losing streak. Once 6-0, Otay Ranch fell to 6-4 following last Friday’s 27-6 loss at Eastlake. The game was a defensive battle for the first half, with each team mustering only a field goal. The Mustangs suffered a major setback in their rushing game, limited to just 60 yards by the Titans. The Otay passing game, however, continues to produce. Kyle Hawkins passed for 203 yards in a losing effort while also rushing 14 times for 43 yards. Chris Martin had six catches for 69 yards. However, the Mustangs were held without a touchdown in the game — the first time this season.
Hawkins has passed for 1,929 yards and 16 touchdowns but has been intercepted 12 times. He is also the team’s leading rusher with 750 yards and six TDs. Martin has 49 receptions for 1,171 yards and leads the team with 17 touchdowns (12 receiving). Anthony Williams has rushed for 507 yards and ranks second on the team with nine touchdowns. Defensively, Justin Doton tops Otay with 84 tackles while Francisco Solis has 6.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries. Martin, a two-way player, has three picks. Jordan Peterson, who ranks second on the team with 57 tackles, has two sacks and two picks.
Carlsbad snapped a four-game losing streak with a 35-0 win at Vista last Friday. Team leaders include quarterback Christian Chapman (1,418 yards, 15 TDs), Shawn Cameron (1,144 rushing yards) and Tyler Crayton (30 catches, 410 yards). Aaryan Dorsett (87 carries, 606 yards) leads the Lancers with nine touchdowns. Defensively, Jordan Perez tops Carlsbad with seven sacks.
The winner gets No. 1 Mission Hills (8-2).
#11 Bonita Vista (2-8) at #6 Westview (7-3)
The Barons advanced on strength of schedule, with four of their eight losses to Division I teams and two more losses to league champions. Bonita Vista, however, has lost its last six games — five after allowing 40 or more points. Quarterback Austin Kane has thrown for more than 1,300 yards but interceptions have been a bugaboo. The Barons lost 40-0 last Friday at Olympian. Delvon Miller is the team’s leading rusher, averaging 95 yards per game. Atal Khlaliq ranks among the county’s top receivers while Caleb Su (more than 200 yards rushing and receiving) leads BVHS in scoring with six touchdowns. Defensively, Luke Parra leads the team in tackles, averaging nearly eight per game, while Giancarlo Centeno tops the Barons in sacks and interceptions.
Westview ended regular season play with a 35-14 loss at Ramona last Friday. Nate Ketteringham has passed for 1,329 yards but has more picks (seven) than touchdowns (six). The Wolverines are averaging 126 rushing yards per game, led by Eric Kremp (89 carries, 472 yards) and Nathan MacGilfrev (84 carries, 358 yards). Cody Williams has 43 catches for 766 yards. Kremp leads Westview with 11 touchdowns.
The winner gets No. 3 Poway (8-2).
#12 Clairemont (5-5) at #5 Mar Vista (7-3)
The host Mariners have won six games in a row, including last week’s 63-14 win against visiting Southwest. Eight MV players scored at least one touchdown in the blowout win that showcased 568 rushing yards by the victors. Mar Vista has out-scored opponents 318-153 this season braced by 4,044 rushing yards (404 per game). Quarterback Landon Clark has done it with his legs (808 rushing yards, 12 TDs) and his arm (364 passing yards, 8 TDs, no interceptions). Leading rushers include Kenny Nieves (742 yards, six TDs), Landon O’Connell (739 yards, nine TDs), Jimmie Hill (647 yards), Bennie Smith (435 yards) and Keevin Moore (304 yards).
The Chieftains, who finished 2-2 in the weak City-Central League, have won three of their last five games.
The winner gets No. 4 Valley Center (6-4).
#10 Mater Dei Catholic (8-2) at #7 Mt. Miguel (6-4)
The visiting Crusaders, who are riding a six-game winning streak, are looking for respect after being passed over for a home game. Mater Dei overcame a slow start to down visiting Sweetwater, 35-14, last Friday as the hosts recorded five sacks and grabbed two fumble recoveries. The Crusaders got three first-half touchdowns — one each by QB Joseph Legerrette-Luke (one-yard sneak), Iman Chatman-Dixon (46-yard catch-and-carry) and Evan Bebee (32-yard catch-and-carry).
Mt. Miguel, meanwhile, is on a roll after sweeping through Grossmont Valley League play 4-0. The Matadors have won their last five games, including last Friday’s climactic 38-35 win against El Capitan. Mt. Miguel rolled up 340 rushing yards — 180 by Ben Lomibao — and 178 passing yards by QB Brad Moreno.
The winner gets No. 2 Madison (9-1).
#12 Calvary Christian Academy (7-2) vs. #5 La Jolla Country Day (6-3)
Friday’s game will be played at Olympian High School because Calvary Christian Academy is a league champion. The Royal Knights defeated host San Pasqual Academy, 33-0, in last Friday’s Citrus League championship game behind 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns by Justin Harrison and a pair of scores by Louie Rodriguez. Harrison has rushed for 1,731 yards and scored 26 touchdowns.
LJCD counters with Sage Burmeister (1,016 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns).
The winner gets No. 4 Horizon Christian (7-3).