Villa Park Offense Hitting a Line Drive

Times Staff Writer

It's one of the most commonly heard refrains of standout running backs: "I couldn't have done it without my offensive line!"

In the case of the Villa Park High football team, however, it should be the title of this season's fight song.

The Spartans are on the verge of their first undefeated regular season in 25 years and have already clinched a share of the Century League title heading into their finale Friday against Anaheim Canyon.

Coaches attribute the success to a number of individuals, but none more than the six seniors on the offensive line, who have controlled the line of scrimmage from the season's outset.

Ryan Formento, Ryan Halbasch, Mitch Sante, Steve Villafuerte, Tyler Alexander and tight end Austin Collett have kept opposing defenses on their heels and, often, flat on their backs.

Each started or experienced significant playing time last season.

"We work hard in the weight room and take it out on the field," said Halbasch, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound tackle.

The offensive line, which averages 250 pounds, has helped the Spartans (9-0, 4-0 in league) score 23 rushing touchdowns -- four ballcarriers have at least three touchdowns apiece -- and sophomore running back Derek Hines has led the way, rushing for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns.

"Sometimes the back makes the line and sometimes the line makes the back," Coach Pat Mahoney said. "Next year, Derek will have to be stronger, faster and better."

The consistent ground game has helped to ease a change at quarterback this year.

Last season, Drew Cavanagh played the first four games at wide receiver, the next three at running back and the final four at quarterback, taking over for his injured brother, Sean.

But one week before the start of this season, Mahoney and his staff decided they didn't want Cavanagh, a senior, on the field for every play at quarterback and safety. They chose Cavanagh as a full-time safety and a part-time wide receiver as the better option, giving the signal-caller's job to Brad Johnson, a junior.

Johnson has responded, throwing for 1,008 yards and seven touchdowns. In a 24-21 victory over Placentia El Dorado on Friday, he completed 20 of 23 passes, setting a school record for completions.

"He's slowly coming along," offensive coordinator Mark McMahon said. "When we get to the playoffs, he's going to have had a lot of offensive snaps."


Adjustments to schedules because of last month's wildfires meant more games in fewer days for many teams.

The shortened period between the final three weeks' worth of games in the Mountain View League certainly didn't seem to bother Toby Gerhart, a sophomore running back at Norco who has rushed for a combined 727 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two Mountain View League games, which were played only five days apart.

Gerhart had 324 yards and three touchdowns in Norco's 31-28 upset of Corona Centennial, the defending Division V champion, on Nov. 5. Norco limited Terrell Jackson, one of the premier running backs in the Southland, to 71 yards.

Gerhart followed that performance by rushing for a school-record 403 yards and scoring four touchdowns in a 35-21 victory over Corona Santiago on Monday. He also had nearly 300 yards and another four touchdowns called back because of penalties.

Gerhart, 6-1 and 205 pounds, is making up for lost time after sitting out the first four games of the season because of a hamstring injury.

Defensive coordinator Reiny Klein said Gerhart has all the qualities of a great running back. His size, speed, vision and toughness is complemented by his intelligence, evident in his 4.6 grade-point average, and a "team-first" attitude.

"If I had a daughter his age, he's the one I'd want her to bring home," Klein said. "He's one of those rare individuals."

Norco (8-1, 4-0) can win the league title outright with a victory over host Corona (7-2, 3-1) on Friday night.


Those hoping to attend games with league-title implications can save money on gas by pitching a tent outside Covina District Stadium tonight.

West Covina South Hills (8-1, 3-0) plays West Covina (4-5, 3-0) for the San Antonio League title tonight. On the same field Friday night, Pomona (5-3-1, 4-0) and Covina Northview (7-2, 3-1) will determine the Valle Vista League championship for the second consecutive season.

"It's a great place to watch a game," South Hills Coach Steve Bogan said of the stadium, which does not have a track circling its playing field.

West Covina has bounced back from a four-game losing streak to win three of its last four. However, keeping up with South Hills, the defending Southern Section Division VII champion, will take a strong effort.

"If we play good, solid football and take care of our end of the deal, we should be OK," Bogan said.

Pomona defeated Northview for the league title last season on a last-minute field goal in a downpour.

Pomona has won four consecutive games and Northview is coming off a 36-19 loss to San Dimas.

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