The storybook season for three local teams has been put to rest, but not without the word pride being administered to them all. To make it to the final four of the football playoffs says a lot about the character and integrity of a program, let alone the work ethic it takes to compete through the 14 actual weeks of practice and conditioning. Let us not forget the off-season workouts, passing leagues and many other events it took these teams to stand as one united front when all was said and done last week.
“A whole team must buy-in to what we are trying to do, not just one or two guys,” says Darrel Turner, head football coach at Murrieta Mesa (9-4).
Turner and his Rams were indeed the talk of the town this season, introducing a plethora of firsts for the program in just his second year with the reigns. The Rams not only got to the post season again this year under Turner, they won their first ever home CIF playoff game and made it to the quarterfinals and semifinals for the first time ever as a program. On top off all that, Murrieta Mesa led the Southwestern League in Passing Yards (Jeff Miller, 3,725), Rushing Yards (Kai Thompson, 1,727) and Receiving Yards (Giovanni Sanders, 1,695), which is a definite first for the school that will be going into their tenth official year in 2018. Despite falling to Cajon 56-28 in the semifinals, look for the Rams to move up in the rankings for sure.
The Heritage Patriots (11-2) found themselves in a similar situation Friday, Nov. 24, well at least one that they have been in before, fighting to make it their third ever CIF-SS Final game. The Patriots have been to the playoffs every year since 2009, lost in the CIF-SS Finals twice (Summit 2011, Citrus Hill 2015) and won it all in 2013 over Rancho Verde. Despite working themselves back in to the game from a 21-point deficit, Heritage could not pull out a semifinal win and fell last week to Valencia, 52-34.
Paloma Valley (10-3) was the other local team that lost last week (10-3), falling to Paraclete of Lancaster, 55-35. The Wildcats tied their best season ever this year with second year head coach, Tom Tello. The last time the Wildcats made it this deep in the CIF-SS playoffs was in 2012 under former head coach Bert Esposito. The 35 points put up by Paloma Valley in last week’s loss was the most Paraclete has allowed this year.
Rancho Verde High School, which borders the City of Perris and the City of Moreno Valley, is the only local team moving on to the CIF-SS Finals this year. The Mustangs have been in this position before, garnishing a 1-3 record in championship games, winning it all over Palm Springs in 2011 under former head coach, Pete Duffy. Duffy now resides at Murrieta Valley as an assistant coach, but took his Mustangs to the playoffs for 9 of the 10 years he was at the school. Last week, under three-year head coach, Jeff Steinberg, Rancho Verde scored three touchdowns on defense, which helped take down previously unbeaten Charter Oak, 41-21. Up next Rancho Verde will play this Friday, Dec. 1, at St. Francis High School. The Knights are 12-1 this season and look to give the Mustangs a good game. Game time is set for 7 p.m.