With four Palomar League football teams ranked in the Times' Top 10 this week, it would stand to reason that there are going to be some outstanding games in the Palomar League this season.
The first of those is tonight.
Vista High School, ranked No. 3 this week, will play No. 8 Poway at 7:30 at Mount Carmel High in the league opener for both teams.
"I don't think you're way off base by ranking four teams that high," Vista Coach Dick Haines said. "This is a very competitive league, and it just might be that good."
Haines' Panthers have combined an powerful running game and a stingy defense for their 3-0 start.
Quarterback Sal Aunese, who made the Times' second-team All-County squad a year ago, has rushed for 274 yards and four touchdowns; and running back Roger Price has gained 387 yards and scored five times. Brett Smith, a fullback who had been out with an injury since the season opener, will return tonight.
"Our running has been fine, but I'm still a little worried about our passing attack," Haines said. "We've been lucky a couple of times when the protection has broken down and Sal has scrambled for big yardage. Maybe we ought to start planning it that way."
Aunese's ability to scramble has been one the keys to Vista's wins over Oceanside (31-7), defending 2-A champion El Camino (28-7) and Morse (44-14), the preseason's eighth-ranked team.
"We have the ability to be as good as our 1974 and 1981 teams (both San Diego Section champions), if we can continue to improve," Haines said. "We're as good after three weeks as any team I've had."
After three weeks, the situation is similar at Poway.
The Titans, led by strong-armed quarterback, Andy Byrne, are 2-1 and have their best team in recent years. Byrne threw four touchdown passes last Friday in a 28-21 win over Oceanside. That followed a 33-16 upset of Mira Mesa two weeks ago. The loss was in the season opener to fifth-ranked Granite Hills, which erased Poway's 21-10 lead in the last six minutes and won, 24-21.
"We don't have a lot of depth and, in that Granite Hills game, we had lost five of our seven men up front by the time we got to the fourth quarter," Dave Boulware, the Poway coach said. "We have everybody back now and the only thing I'm concerned with is that we don't get too excited. The kids are really fired up, and I just hope they can save some enthusiasm for the game."
Poway has been a big-play team. Wide receiver Jeff Maynor, for example, has 13 catches this season, six for touchdowns. In the Mira Mesa win, the Titans scored on a 95-yard kickoff return by Doug Eagle and a 72-yard run by wingback Mark Kabo.
"We've been doing that all year," Boulware said. "We're hoping that we can keep the game close for three quarters then hopefully get a couple of big plays at the end."
Said Haines: "They've got a tough offense to stop and we're going to have to control the ball to win. We'll grind it out a little bit and then, if they over-commit, we'll hit the home run."
Teams: Vista vs. Poway
Where: Mt. Carmel High
When: Tonight, 7:30
Records: Vista 3-0, Poway 2-1
Rankings: Vista is No. 3 in the Times' Top Ten. Poway is No. 8 in the Times' Top Ten.
Last Year: Vista 40, Poway 8
Players To Watch: Vista--Sal Aunese (6-0, 193, Sr., QB), Roger Price (6-0, 195, Sr., RB), Brett Smith (6-3, 217, Sr., FB), Mike Jones (6-3, 180, Sr., CB). Poway--Andy Byrne (6-2, 200, Sr., QB), Jeff Maynor (5-11, 175, Sr., WR), Mike Lucia (5-11, 180, Sr., TB), Harold Jones (6-2, 210, Sr. LB).