GLENDALE — The following are previews of the area's upcoming high school football games this week.
St. Francis High football Coach Jim Bonds is quite aware of the magnitude of the task that lies in front of his Golden Knights on Saturday night and quite aware of the resume and skill that his team's opponent possesses.
"In my 11 years coaching here, this is probably the most talented team I've ever seen on film," said Bonds of Gardena Serra, the reigning CIF-State Division III champion that will make its Mission League debut on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against St. Francis at Friedman Field. "They're pretty doggone good."
Armed with a plethora of Division I talent, Serra (5-0) enters Saturday's game as the No. 8 team in the state according to maxpreps.com and the No. 5 team in the Southland in the latest L.A. Times Top 25. Along with that, the Cavaliers, ranked No. 1 in the CIF Southern Section Western Division, are riding the wave of a 20-game winning streak and, going beyond that, have won 33 of their last 34 games.
In stark contrast, St. Francis (3-2) limps into the marquee matchup with troubling injuries and the sting of two consecutive losses in which the Golden Knights were favored against the likes of West Ranch and Paso Robles, but suffered disappointing losses.
"We definitely think we're good enough to be 5-0," Bonds said, "but, for whatever reason, these last two games we didn't get it done."
If lack of motivation was the culprit in either of the last two losses, it's a safe bet that the underdog Golden Knights will have that aspect taken care of coming kickoff time.
"I anticipate that and that has to be the case," said Bonds of his team being ready to go from the first snap, something that was lacking when it fell behind by 14- and 21-point deficits to West Ranch and Paso Robles, respectively, before late rallies fell short. "We have to play better football. It's the first game of the Mission League and it's against a team that hasn't lost in 20 games and we're at home. There's no doubt [we should be motivated]."
Having defeated its first five opponents by an average of 28 points, Serra's defense has been formidable, but its offense has been downright scary. Quarterback Conner Preston has thrown for 1,322 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 52 completions, with receivers Marquise Lee (604 yards, 10 touchdowns) and George Farmer (401 yards, three TDs) doing a great deal of damage with only 16 receptions each.
Running back Shaquille Richard is averaging more than nine yards a carry, having totaled 687 yards on the ground and seven scores in 74 carries.
On the other hand, St. Francis starting running back Michael Melnick, also a starting linebacker, is day-to-day and will likely be a gametime decision, according to Bonds, after incurring a neck injury in the team's 42-28 loss to Paso Robles last week. Austin De Los Santos, who had platooned with Melnick, is still nursing a groin ailment and offensive tackle Patrick Carroll, arguably the area's most talented player entering the season, will miss his third straight game with a leg injury.
"We're hobbled a little bit," said Bonds, whose team is ranked 10th in the Western Division.
Nevertheless, quarterback Brett Nelson and a strong core of receivers are still there and, thus far, that's been enough to put up some big numbers for the Golden Knights offense. Nelson's thrown for 1,304 yards and 17 touchdowns, with Travis Talianko having hauled in eight touchdowns and 418 yards and Ian Hamilton having grabbed four scores and 399 yards receiving.
As much as anything else, though, Serra, one of three new teams entering the Mission League this season, is a big-play team and St. Francis has been susceptible to giving up big gains. Hence, a St. Francis defense that has allowed an average of 26.2 points a contest must be shored up.
"The thing that's been hurting us the last two weeks has been giving up big plays," Bonds said. "We need to avoid letting them score on one play."
Hoover vs. Burbank (7 p.m. today): The Tornadoes were hoping to fare better in the Pacific League this season behind their improved offense, but so far haven't been able to keep it on the field enough to have a chance at wins after falling behind big in their first two league contests.
Instead it was Burroughs and Crescenta Valley whose offenses had a field day against Hoover, posting 57-13 and 62-28 victories, respectively.
That very well may prove to be a problem for Hoover (1-4, 0-2 in league) again this week against the defending league co-champion Bulldogs (4-1, 2-0), whose prolific offense monopolized the first half last week against Glendale, putting up 56 unanswered points before halftime in a 56-8 win.
Burbank, which is ranked third in the Southeast Division, has a capable passing game, but will likely look to take it to the Tornadoes on the ground early with a rushing attack led by running back Ulisies Ochoa, who averages 119 yards per game and has scored 11 touchdowns. The Bulldogs are not one-dimensional in that aspect, either, as Quortney Brazier broke out for 98 yards and two scores against Glendale.
Hoover quarterback AJ Pule continued his strong season with four total touchdowns against Crescenta Valley, but the Tornadoes defense will have to get some early stops for Pule or any of the other offensive weapons Hoover has to be a factor.
Crescenta Valley at Muir (7 p.m. Friday): The Falcons are coming off a 21-14 win over the Mustangs in last season's meeting, but that was at Moyse Field and Muir has historically been a tough place for Crescenta Valley to play.
Furthermore, the Falcons (4-1, 2-0) will be playing without leading rusher Marro Lee (133.3 yards per game), whose season was ended by a thumb injury sustained against Hoover last week.
No one else on the Falcons' roster has rushed for 100 yards this season, but Nikko Domingo and Mark Sereno may get more of the touches going forward, as the current Falcons squad has shown more of a tendency to stick with the run than get adventurous with the Zac Wilkerson-led passing game.
Muir (1-4, 0-2) has lost its last four games, which include nonleague losses to Saugus and Bishop Amat and a 22-19 league-opening loss to co-champion Burbank.
Not as deadly as in the past, but always a danger to convert on a big home-run play, the Mustangs offense is led by the quarterback tandem of Kevon Seymour and Jeffrey Davis and leading rusher Tairen Owens, who averages six yards per carry.
Glendale vs. Pasadena (7 p.m. Friday): As far as Xs and Os, the Nitros and Bulldogs don't have much in common, with the former relying almost exclusively on running the football and the latter prone to go more to the air.
But the two teams share one dubious distinction — they've been soundly beaten in their two Pacific League contests thus far and need a win on Friday to have any hope of staying in the playoff hunt.
Facing off against the top two teams in league from last year last week, Glendale (0-5, 0-2) was thrashed, 56-8, by Burbank and Pasadena (1-4, 0-2) was beaten, 35-8, by Burroughs.
Nitros quarterback Alex Yoon has been a bright spot, but has been lacking for protection and was knocked out of Friday's loss in the first half on a sack.
Whether or not Yoon plays, Glendale figures to stick with Chan Kim and Alex Manukian on the ground, which should prompt an adjustment by Pasadena from the blitz-heavy defensive strategy it employed against the Indians last week.
Flintridge Prep vs. Chadwick (7 p.m. Friday): After facing off in numerous contentious big games over the last few seasons, there's no love lost between the Rebels and Dolphins, who according to some Prep players have become as big a rival as any in the Prep League.
And, while most of those battles recently have come toward the end of the league race, Friday's matchup will kick it off for both teams.
Chadwick (5-0), which is ranked No. 1 in the Northeast Division, beat Prep, 35-15, on the final day of the regular season last year before advancing to the CIF semifinals.
The Dolphins are led by quarterback Hank Trumball, who has passed for 1,102 yards and 15 touchdowns to just two interception and Chudi Iregbulem is averaging just under 100 yards per game on the ground while rushing for 12 scores.
Prep enters at 0-3-1 coming off a bye week. It played its best game of the season in a 14-14 tie against Malibu on Oct. 1 and will look to keep that momentum going on Friday in hopes of somehow slowing the Dolphins' juggernaut offense.