The La Cañada High football team will face its biggest test in its first week of Rio Hondo League play, as the Spartans host Monrovia, the 2010 Rio Hondo League and CIF Southern Section Mid-Valley Division champions, to open league on Oct. 13.
"The last couple of years that's been a game we really get up for," said La Cañada Coach Dan Yoder, whose Spartans were the Wildcats' greatest challenge in league last year, but Monrovia still won comfortably, 34-10. "We played them really tough last year, but the wheels fell off a little bit on a couple of our drives, but we've never had trouble with [getting up for Monrovia].
"Add that it's the league opener and I would say, for us, it's a good situation to start with Monrovia."
The biggest tests in league are being thrown at the Spartans in the first three weeks in 2011. The good news is with a few league wins under its belt, La Cañada could come into the final two weeks of the season controlling its own playoff destiny against San Marino and Blair — the fifth and sixth-place league teams from last year.
Yoder, who's entering his third year coaching the Spartans, isn't taking 2010 into consideration this year, though.
"I don't look at it as we have easy ones at the end and hard ones at the beginning," Yoder said. "You can't overlook any opponent because you never know what kind of team they're going to field one year from another."
La Cañada hits the road to face South Pasadena — which lost out on a third-place league finish and playoff berth to La Cañada on a coin flip last year — on Oct. 21. La Cañada held off a last-minute Tigers drive to win, 28-21, on homecoming in 2010.
La Cañada will host Temple City, which captured second in league last year, on Oct. 28.
"Temple City is always strong and they still have some of those big horses up front [on the defensive line]," said Yoder; whose team lost to the Rams, 27-15, last year.
The Spartans face Blair, who they defeated 42-0 last year, and San Marino, who they beat 21-7 on Nov. 4 and 10, respectively, to close out the regular season.
"You can't look past anyone like that," Yoder said. "That's a big danger that teams face."
Before La Cañada starts league, the team will look to tune up its play in the nonleague portion of the schedule, which is identical to how it was last year. The Spartans will kick off their season on the road against Alhambra, which fell to La Cañada, 17-0, last year; on Sept. 9.
"We wanted to make sure [Alhambra] was there to push us," Yoder said. "They can give us a good challenge. They are a tough, hard-nosed team."
The Spartans will travel to Glendale, which they beat 40-17 in 2010, on Sept. 16 before its home opener against Crescenta Valley on Sept. 23. The Falcons pulled off a dramatic, 38-34, victory over La Cañada in 2010.
La Cañada will look to improve on last year's performance against Maranatha in an away game on Sept. 30.
"We were trying to beef up our preseason schedule to get ready for league [when we scheduled Maranatha]," said Yoder, who saw his team fall to the Minutemen, 43-21, last year. "We felt there were some holes in our schedules before and we hoped they would bring us a challenge and they definitely did."
The final game of the Spartans' nonleague slate will come at home against Arroyo on Oct. 7. The Knights defeated La Cañada, 26-7, in 2010.
"The preseason schedule gives us a good look at what the regular season is going to be like," Yoder said. "We didn't want to coast through the preseason and get hit hard in the regular season. We want to struggle through our preseason games with some big tests."