The La Cañada High football team is literally and figuratively limping into Rio Hondo League with a three-game losing streak and several key players recovering from injuries suffered during the last two weeks.
Still, the Spartans (2-3) hope to get off on the right foot during their homecoming game against league opponent South Pasadena on Friday. The big question is whether quarterback Scott Gray will be available after sitting out last week with an injury.
Coach Dan Yoder hopes to have Gray back, but admits his signal-caller got banged up pretty good against Pasadena Maranatha after getting sacked seven times.
"We had some guys banged up last week, so hopefully they'll be fixed up for next week," Yoder said.
Success for La Cañada has come on the ground this year. Each win for the Spartans has come with more than 170 rushing yards, while running for less than 100 in two of their losses.
Daleep Sandhu is La Cañada's leading rusher with 286 rushing yards and three touchdowns this season. Kevin Stoner has 178 yards, averaging 9.4 per carry with touchdowns, on 42 fewer carries than Sandhu (61 to 19). Michael Arkfeld's stats may not stand out (18 rushing attempts for 72 yards), but he's proven to be an effective change-of-pace back.
Yoder's dilemma is that there are only so many carries to go around for three solid running backs — a crisis many coaches would love to have.
His other problem is that rushing attack has been naturalized at times this season. Defenses know La Cañada runs the ball (through five games, the Spartans have run the ball 155 times and attempted just 55 passes) so they fill up the box and take away any running room. That has forced Gray, or the other quarterback, to try and find yardage through the air.
"If teams are loading up the box against us, we are going to show some of the talents of our receivers as well," Yoder said.
The Spartans' offense is looking to add an aerial dimension to open up some space for their backs. So far, that dimension is nowhere to be found. If the Spartans want to pass the ball effectively, they will likely need their offensive line to protect their quarterback better, after giving up 14 sacks in the last three games.
"We have to figure out the protection," Yoder said. "We are looking to add another dimension to our team that we didn't have [against Maranatha]. They stopped the run and we couldn't pass; and we need to have that."
It was difficult to move the ball, let alone implement a passing attack, without Gray last week. Gray has been the spark plug for La Cañada's offense. He has thrown for 415 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 216 yards and eight touchdowns through four games.
Still, Yoder is expecting a win, with or without Gray.
"I believe in my guys, I think they are going to react fine," Yoder said. "I think they will take this as an insulting preseason and come into league with a chip on their shoulder; I hope."