When the Fountain Valley football team steps on the field tonight at Santa Ana Stadium to face Mater Dei in a first-round Division I playoff game, it may be hard for the Barons and their fans not to wonder, “what if.”
What if Fountain Valley had been on the Los Alamitos’ two-yard line with 27 seconds left after a 42-yard pass reception by Aaron Carter instead of having the play called back because of a penalty? The Barons probably get a game-winning field goal instead of a 24-23 loss to the county’s top-ranked team.
What if time had run out on Esperanza after Jarrod Schuster’s 25-yard run with nine seconds to play? Instead, one second remained and a field goal gave Esperanza a 19-17 victory.
Those losses are the main reason Fountain Valley is playing Mater Dei in tonight’s first round instead of Lakewood, which plays Los Alamitos, the Sunset League champion.
Perhaps the biggest “what if” will be staring the Barons in the facemask tonight.
What if wide receiver Kelvin Millhouse had stayed at Fountain Valley instead of transferring to Mater Dei last September?
The issue is still so sensitive, Mater Dei and Fountain Valley officials and coaches all declined to be interviewed for this story.
Fountain Valley Principal Gary Ernst fought Millhouse’s transfer, claiming the 17-year-old senior had been unduly influenced. Millhouse and his family said the transfer was based on academic preference.
After a two-hour hearing Sept. 10, Southern Section officials determined there was no “clear-cut evidence” of outside pressure.
But the issue was still on the minds of section officials last Saturday when they were compiling the playoff brackets. Assistant Commissioner Bill Clark said the playoff committee tried to avoid matching Mater Dei, the South Coast League champion, with Fountain Valley, the third-place team from the Sunset League team, but ultimately could not.
“The [Millhouse transfer] issue was specifically brought up during the Division I pairing talks,” Clark said. “It was a real concern. But by selecting an at-large team [Huntington Beach] from the Sunset League, we had to put the four Sunset teams in different quarters of the bracket.”
On the football field, there’s no question Millhouse has been a key component in Mater Dei’s success. He has 42 receptions for 949 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Fountain Valley’s outstanding wide receiver this season is Aaron Carter, who has caught 51 passes for 1,061 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Now, imagine the two as teammates. It’s not hard to see Fountain Valley improving its 7-3 record.
“With Carter and Millhouse on the same squad,” Trabuco Hills Coach Bill Crow said, “if I was the [opposing] defensive coordinator I’d think, ‘Wow!’ That would present quite a problem.” The Mustangs defeated Fountain Valley, 24-7, but lost to the Monarchs, 38-21.
“Both are exceptional receivers,” Crow said. “They’re like clones--great speed, great hands and great instincts. Millhouse definitely would have added to what Fountain Valley already had. And for Mater Dei, he gave them the deep-ball threat they didn’t have.”
Last season at Fountain Valley, Millhouse played behind receivers Carter and Jason Perez. In fact, Millhouse had more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two).
But his presence at Mater Dei was felt immediately.
In the season opener against Fresno Clovis West, Millhouse caught six passes for 109 yards.
Against Concord De La Salle, Millhouse shined. Trailing, 21-7, at halftime, Millhouse caught an eight-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter. His next reception was spectacular--a 74-yard pass play during which Millhouse split two defenders and outran both to the end zone.
Crow said Millhouse also is an effective defender.
“He has the quickness to go one-on-one with most receivers,” Crow said. “If he and Carter are lined up on each other, it will be very interesting.”
Servite Coach Larry Toner, whose team lost to Mater Dei and Fountain Valley, gives Carter the edge as a defender.
“Carter was the best defensive back we faced--no one else was close,” Toner said. “He has great speed, is conscious of the entire field, and gets to the spot that’s being threatened.”
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FOUNTAIN VALLEY VS. MATER DEI
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Santa Ana Stadium
Records: Fountain Valley 7-3; Mater Dei 9-1
Rankings: Mater Dei is seeded No. 3 in Southern Section Division I; Fountain Valley is unseeded.
Noteworthy: Fountain Valley suffered two heartbreaking defeats in league play, including last week’s last-second 19-17 decision to Esperanza. Mater Dei wants another shot at Long Beach Poly. The Jackrabbits defeated the Monarchs, 28-25, in last year’s title game at the Coliseum. To get that rematch, each team will have to reach this year’s title game, Dec. 12 at Edison Field.