Things haven’t played out as planned or hoped for the La Cañada High football team this season, but the Spartans hope to get the ball rolling in the right direction heading into 2013 and the second year under coach James Sims.
La Cañada has a good chance to do so Friday at 7 p.m. in its Rio Hondo League and season finale, as it travels to Muir High to take on a Blair team that’s been going through greater struggles in its first season under coach Johnny Lopez.
The Vikings didn’t have much offseason preparation under Lopez, who was hired July 20, and have gone winless — 0-9, 0-4 in league — as a result heading into their 2012 finale. Blair has experienced running clocks nearly every game, with its closest loss on Aug. 30, the second game of the season, in a 17-point loss to Marshall Fundamental at home, 31-14.
“It's very important [to get a win this week] because we are playing a Blair team that is really struggling this year so to lose to them would be devastating to our program,” Sims said. “It's important to build toward next year and get a win.”
La Cañada (1-8, 0-4) won its season opener over Alhambra, 17-7, and has proceeded to drop its next eight games. It also hasn’t come close to a victory, outside of its win over the Moors, with last week’s 44-26 loss to Temple City being its closest to a win since nonleague play when it also fell to Eagle Rock (25-7) and Glendale (21-3) by 18-point margins.
Sims said La Cañada’s key to victory will be cutting down on its turnovers, as it comes into Friday losing the turnover battle, 21-9.
The Spartans turned the ball over three times via fumble in last week’s loss to the Rams and turned the ball over four times against South Pasadena, 35-8.
“Our big thing is turnovers,” Sims said. “You look at some of our scores and they’re bad, but not if you just take away the turnovers. We lose by 18 to Temple City, but it's all the turnovers. Against South Pas, we lost 35-8, but we were able to drive on them — we had 350 rushing yards — but we had four turnovers in the red zone. Without those, it could have been a different game.”
La Cañada senior running back Andy Paynter figures to get a hefty workload this week against a Blair defense that gave up 287 yards against the Tigers last week. Paynter ran for 185 yards and two scores on 14 carries last week and is averaging 4.96 yards a carry this season with 784 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 158 attempts through nine games.
Spartans junior quarterback Robbie Fuelling, who’s replaced Matt Jones as the signal caller, had his best performance of the year last week, completing seven of 12 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, La Cañada will continue to lean on senior defensive back Grant Owen and junior linebacker Marshall Clark. Clark leads the Spartans in tackles with 59 (35 solo), while Owen is right behind with 57 and a team-high 51 solo tackles. Both players also have two fumble recoveries and an interception on their resume this year.
Blair has struggled offensively all year long, getting shut out in all but two of its games this year, and producing 66 yards of total offense at South Pasadena with running back Kyle Ceja-McKinley generating 33 yards on 18 touches.
Vikings quarterback Rayjon Moore is also capable of making something out of nothing. He ran for 169 yards on 12 carries against Marshall.