Another battle draws near

GLENDALE — The following are previews of the area's upcoming high school football games.

Heading into the season, both the Crescenta Valley High and St. Francis football teams were being talked about as much for who had graduated as anything else.

For the Golden Knights, the biggest departure was that of standout Dietrich Riley.

But after a 42-27 win in the first week over Arcadia, while there remains plenty of room for improvement, it's clear that St. Francis has plenty of talent returning.

As for Crescenta Valley, despite a 34-13 win over Verdugo Hills to open the year, first-year Coach Paul Schilling is well aware that a team that returns just one starter each on offense and defense is still in search of much-needed experience, especially when faced with the task of taking on the CIF Southern Section Western Division's No. 5 team, which St. Francis currently is.

"We're not young ... but they're just so inexperienced," said Schilling, who has plenty of seniors in the lineup, but few with varsity playing experience.

And, of course, there's the not-so small detail of this being the annual "Battle for Foothill Boulevard," which kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at Glendale High's Moyse Field.

"The atmosphere at the school and for the kids, it's almost like a playoff game, but it's Game Two," said Schilling, whose Falcons will try to stop an eight-game losing streak in the annual battle. "We've got a lot to get ready for. …The last few years they've just had a better team."

Last year was one of the closest battles in a while, however, with St. Francis edging Crescenta Valley, 28-21. Still, many of the key Falcons, such as Harry Pessy, Kyle Cota and Sam Campbell are gone now.

But St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds is putting that to the side.

"Every year we play these guys, you can throw the records out, you can throw the amount of returning starters out, you can throw everything out the window," Bonds said.

He's also hoping his team will toss out any thought of overlooking the Falcons, as might have been the case in the Golden Knights' close win over Arcadia.

"I hope we're not dumb enough to do that," Bonds said. "We better not overlook them or I'll be very upset on Saturday morning."

St. Francis comes in with Michael Melnick leading the way, as the senior running back tallied 162 yards and a score in 25 carries against Arcadia. Quarterback Brett Nelson also had a rushing touchdown and three through the air, but passed just 13 times. Bonds emphasized that his goal is always to be balanced offensively, but the game doesn't always dictate that pattern.

"I always like to be as balanced as possible," Bonds said. "Now having said that, things change during the flow of a game."

In the second half, St. Francis concentrated on the run far more, likely to aid a defense that gave up more than 300 yards through the air — though it did sufficiently bottle up the Arcadia running game. While first assumption might lean to a breakdown in the defensive backfield, Bonds said that's not necessarily the case.

"I don't think it's fair to pin it on the defensive backfield," said Bonds, who might see the return of starting cornerback/receiver Richie Maloof this week. "They had a couple breakdowns, but everybody had their share of breakdowns."

Which was apparently evident the next morning in films and, aside from emerging victorious for a ninth season in a row against the Falcons, improvement is a top priority for the Knights.

"Everybody in the room agreed we had plenty to improve on," Bonds said. "Just general improvement all around is what we hope to see most."

Schilling also believes if his team is to contend with the Golden Knights, it too must shore up some defensive problems.

"We have to tackle better and contain a little better," Schilling said.

But the biggest aspect will likely come with his offense setting the tone.

Nick Ruiz, the Falcons' lone offensive returner to have started last season, had three touchdowns against Verdugo Hills from quarterback Zac Wilkerson. And though it might be a change of pace from the spread offense of the Falcons' usual goals, Schilling said using the clock and ball control will be key.

"We need to hold on to the ball, no turnovers, and control the ball a little bit," Schilling said. "We can't give them the short field.

"That would be our big thing — hold on to the ball, make it a game and in the fourth quarter see what we can do."

Hoover vs. South Pasadena at Moyse Field (7 p.m. today): The Tornadoes left the field at Sierra Vista following their 35-27 Week One loss to the Dons with plenty to build on this week after scoring three times in the fourth quarter.

If that version of the team can assert itself from the beginning — and not the one that shot itself in the foot with three first-half turnovers — Hoover (0-1) will have a good chance of coming away with its second win over the perennial-nonleague opponent Tigers (1-0) in the last two years.

Among Hoover's highlights from its opener were the progression of quarterback AJ Pule, who completed 22 of 39 for 385 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 44 yards and another score, and the emergence of Jesse Pena (nine catches for 192 yards and a touchdown) as a go-to receiver.

After allowing 402 total yards on the ground to Sierra Vista, the Tornadoes run defense will seek a better showing against South Pasadena, which was led by 146 yards on the ground from Patrick Turner in a 22-9 victory over San Gabriel on Friday.

When Hoover defeated South Pasadena, 16-13, in Week Two last season, it was the last nonleague win for the Tornadoes and broke a streak of 21 straight losses.

Glendale at La Cañada (7 p.m. Friday): With an identical nonleague slate to last season, the Nitros' preseason objective figures to be gauging improvement coming off a season that yielded just one win.

There was plenty of progress to note after Friday's 21-10 loss to Cathedral, in which the Nitros held a lead in the fourth quarter, forced five turnovers and limited the Phantoms to a modest 160 yards of total offense in the first half.

But there are also things the Nitros will have to do better to have a chance against the Spartans, who are coming off a 17-0 win over Alhambra in their season opener — namely, convert on offense.

The failure to score in a first-and-goal situation in the first half against Cathedral exemplified a game in which the Nitros totaled just 171 yards.

The Spartans, who earned a 35-0 blanking of Glendale last year, didn't have an abundance of offense in their opener either. They totaled 247 yards of offense and were shut out in the first half, but benefited from two fumble recoveries.

Flintridge Prep vs. Grace Brethren at Moorpark College (7:30 p.m. Friday): The Rebels (0-1) will be looking to turn the page on a disappointing fourth quarter that saw St. Genevieve rally for a 21-20 win on Saturday.

Prep did control much of that game and led the Valiants by two scores after three quarters, but encountered some glitches in its newly installed shotgun Wing-T offense.

Kyle McDonald, who passed for two touchdowns on the night, may have moved himself in position to take control of the quarterback job for the Rebels, who also got a rushing score from Eric Kazangian.

Grace Brethren (0-1), which lost to Brentwood, 26-14, on Sept. 3, went 7-6 and reached the semifinals of the East Valley Division playoffs last season.

The Lancers did not complete a pass in five attempts in their opener and didn't display much of a rushing attack either, totaling just 151 yards on the ground.

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