On all levels and across-the-board, football is in full bloom and moving towards a crescendo.
In prep play, the regular season is winding down and the always compelling postseason is just around the corner.
As for college ball, the campaign is at the two-thirds pole, with the race for the four prized playoff spots really starting to heat up.
And on the professional front, the schedule has reached the halfway mark with plenty of interesting storylines beginning to unfold.
The following are some of the gridiron items that have captured the attention of the author.
For the fourth time this season the Calvin Christian Crusaders scored 58 points or more en route to a massive 76-35 win over Horizon Prep last Friday. Nine different Crusaders carried the ball during the victory including standouts Arthur Torres (121 yards, 3TDs), Luke Bousema (107 yards) and Bryce Lovisa (2 TDs).
While on defense, it was the trio of Evan Senti (10 total tackles), Nico Brouwer (3 sacks) and Paco Corona (2 INTs) who led the way. An 85-yard kickoff return by Matt Lafler was another notable highlight of the latest CC victory.
With the win, the Crusaders ran their record to a perfect 9-0 and now can concentrate on a game they’ve been pointing to all season when they will travel east to take on Foothills Christian. For those not aware, it was the Knights who deprived CC of a second straight San Diego Section 8-Man championship last year with a 44-38 triumph over the Crusaders in the title game.
Look for the rampaging Crusaders to get their revenge before moving onto the playoffs where it is expected they will take care of business and prove to be unstoppable.
Another local high school team had a much tougher time of it. After taking a 7-6 lead after the opening 12 minutes, visiting Escondido High couldn’t contain the surging Valley Center Jaguars and fell by a count of 43-14. The Jags seized control of the contest by outscoring the Cougars 30-0 in the second and third quarters.
The Cougars (4-5) will try to level their record at .500 when they host local rival San Pasqual tomorrow night in the regular-season finale for both teams. This has been a year of growth and improvement for the Esco program and as long as it has a back the caliber of Kevin Rodriguez at their disposal, the Cougs could prove to be a threat to any team it may encounter in the upcoming playoffs.
Though the San Diego State Aztecs (7-2) were able to get back in the winning column with a 28-7 conquest of Hawaii this past Saturday behind a huge 253-yard, two-score effort from running back deluxe Rashaad Penny, there exists an air of disappointment surrounding SDSU. Once unbeaten at 6-0, seemingly on a roll and perfectly positioned to find themselves playing in one of the major bowl games, the Aztecs surprisingly lost their mojo. Suffering unexpected back-to-back losses as a favorite against Boise State and then Fresno State, Coach Rocky Long’s team fell into a funk at the worst possible time.
Even if the Aztecs should win out from here, in all likelihood they will not be a part of the Mountain West Conference championship game and that must be categorized as a huge letdown. On the verge of really taking that next step up in terms of national recognition, prestige and perception, SDSU just couldn’t get it done and now must content itself with a second-tier bowl berth.
What the Aztecs have accomplished in recent years has certainly been praiseworthy but 2017 will long be remembered as the season when a glorious opportunity was missed.
Unquestionably, one of the biggest surprises of the college football season has been the reemergence of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Coming off a horrendous 4-8 campaign and unranked entering this season, ND (7-1) has reinvented itself with a potent running attack paced by Heisman candidate Josh Adams and a terrific offensive line as well as a defense that has made huge strides under the tutelage of new coordinator Mike Elko.
Many felt that head coach Brian Kelly was on the hot seat and was in jeopardy of being axed but to his credit, Kelly took a serious appraisal of his program and the changes born of that assessment have been nothing short of spectacular. A team that no one was touting is suddenly right in the mix to capture one of those four coveted playoff spots. ND still has plenty of work to do with games against ranked opponents Miami and Stanford left on the schedule, but at the very least, the Irish should end the regular season with a double-digit win total which should net them a place in a very high-profile bowl game. Any way you slice it, the Irish appear to be back!
Another team that has confounded the experts is the University of Arizona (6-2). Thought to be heading nowhere after a late September loss to Utah, the Wildcats have suddenly become a juggernaut ripping off four straight wins over teams like UCLA, Cal and Washington State, all the while scoring at least 44 points in every game during that stretch.
The Wildcats ascendance has been keyed by the dynamic play of sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate. A serviceable passer, Tate’s true calling card is his nifty and elusive running while operating out of a read-option attack. Averaging better than 13 yards-per-carry and having already scored eight touchdowns, Tate has proven to be both a superb athlete as well as a leader.
Now U of A has a chance to take control of the Pac-12’s South Division when it travels to Los Angeles this Saturday to confront the always formidable Trojans. Get a win there, which certainly won’t be easy, and the ‘Cats will be on the cusp of getting into the league’s conference’s title game. And that’s a prospect that would have seemed absolutely unthinkable just a few short weeks ago.
On the pro front, the whole kneeling controversy has grown old, tiresome and has lost what little effectiveness it might have had. It simply creates a bad visual that tarnishes the league and certainly doesn’t advance the causes the players claim they are attempting to bring to light. The time has come for what has become a fiasco for all parties concerned to be brought to an end. This questionable protest has more than run its course.
And finally, despite their relocation, the Chargers remain a team that for the most part, just can’t figure out how to get it done. Thought to be a potential dark horse when it came to competing in the AFC West, the Bolts continue to be perpetual underachievers with a 3-5 record that accurately reflects their standing as a team. Yeah, there are some notables like Phillip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa who are capable of doing some special things but overall the culture remains one of mediocrity at best.
In what the Chargers have termed the “Battle for L.A,” the Rams are kicking their ass, both in terms of success on the field and generating interest in the Southland.