Video by Chauncy Miller and JP Raineri
The fourth annual Canyon Coast Classic pitting 32 all-star football players from Southern California against 32 all-stars from Arizona, was held on Martin Luther King Day at Wheelock Stadium, Riverside City College. The Arizona All-Stars won their third straight victory, 27-21.
San Diego State-bound kicker John Baron (Chaparral) split the uprights on the opening kick-off, giving Arizona the ball on the 20-yd line. The Southern California defense forced a quick three-and-out. A shanked punt gave the SoCal team the ball at midfield; Loyola running back Nico Evans took the first hand-off 16 yards off the right side, caught a swing pass to the left side and then another hand-off to the right side. Southern California scored first with a 23-yard pass from Roosevelt QB Joseph Muriel to Tahquitz receiver Michael Stewart.
Arizona was forced to punt and this time downed the ball inside the five. Muriel fumbled on a scramble play and Cody Carrell from Westview recovered the ball for Arizona on the six-yard line. The SoCal defense denied two dive plays; Defensive lineman Chris Unga from Rancho Cucamonga sacked Arizona QB Josh Eckley for a 14-yd loss on third down. Ben Sweet (Pinnacle) hit a 35-yd field goal to put Arizona on the scoreboard, 7-3.
SoCal drove from the twenty down to the Arizona six-yd line, but Muriel’s pass to Jordan Huffman (Santiago) was intercepted and returned to the 17. Eleven plays later, Roosevelt DB Anthony Spencer returned the favor with a pick at midfield. SoCal was forced to punt and Chazz Eldredge’s (Chino Hills) punt was downed at the three. Arizona drove 97 yards with QB Zach Werlinger (Basha) scoring from ten yards out for a 10-7 lead.
Despite constant pressure from Murrieta Valley’s Jordan Silva, Arizona scored one more time before the end of the half. Werlinger hit Elijah Marks (Desert Edge) on a ten-yard hitch pass that Marks turned into a 53-yd score. With only 1:05 left on the clock, SoCal QB Ian Fieber (Mission Viejo) engineered a drive from his own 29; Evans’ 41-yd run set the ball at the18-yd line with nineteen seconds left. Fieber completed a pass to Upland’s Trevor Wright, but MIllenium’s Aaron Diggs ripped the ball away to kill the drive.
SoCal received the ball to start the second half, but a 60-yd “pick-six” by linebacker Mason Johnson gave Arizona a 24-7 lead. Both defenses stiffened in the second half.
Muriel hit Wright for a 19-yd score to open the final period and bring SoCal within two scores, 24-14. Baron’s 51-yd field goal attempt with five minutes left fell just short. SoCal forced a turnover on downs at the 29 with 2:39 left in the game. On a third-and-ten, Muriel hit Charter Oak’s Donavin Washington on a deep ball for a 71-yard score to bring SoCal within three points, 24-21, with 2:13 left.
Arizona then drove from midfield to the SoCal 8-yd line where the defense held Arizona to two losses and no gain. Sweet’s 21-yd field goal attempt with nine seconds left hit the left upright, dropped onto the crossbar and fell over the goal post for an additional three points, 27-21.
Arizona rushed for ninety yards in the first half, but was held under twenty in the second half; they passed for 223 yards. Elijah Hawks had 68 yards receiving in the first half; JT Nettleton ended the night with seven catches for 88 yards.
SoCal amassed 517 total yards. Evans led all rushers in the first half with 62 yards; he carried eight times for 104 yards. Washington caught four passes for 91 yards and a score. Elijah Brown from West Valley caught four passes for 94 yards.
Arizona coach Jason Jewell, who got his first win as a head coach in the Canyon Coast Classic last year, was pleased with the play of his team, “This is the best recruiting class in Arizona. We had six practices and the kids gelled together well. Unfortunately, we had a couple of injuries and we got down to our third center. Football is football.”
“Big Lou” Farrar, legendary coach from Charter Oak who has won five CIF Championships, headed up the SoCal staff and said, “We had lots of talent to pick from and we wanted to pick kids of character who could play together as a team instead of individuals. All of our kids are special. We put a lot into the practices and had fun as a group. We’re trying to do a lot with kids in a very short time – trying to teach them things they’ll need at the next level. Unfortunately, it’s not enough time for them to get confident with what we’re trying to do; a little hesitation leads to missed opportunities/assignments. We held them in the second half, but you can’t commit four, five turnovers and expect to come out on top.”
The number of all-star games available for kids to play in dilutes our rosters,” said Bert Esposito, President of the Southern California Interscholastic Football Coaches Association (SCIFCA), “Many of our area’s best have already played in their two games.”
Local players – Jordan Silva, Murrieta Valley; RJ Benz, Paloma Valley; Niko Gomez, Heritage; and John Baron, Chaparral – were selected to the Southern California All-Star team.
This is a great experience,” said kicker Baron, “With the level of talent here, we get to see what it would be like to play at the next level.” For many, this was the last opportunity to impress coaches at the next level with their abilities and talents.
The Riverside SPORTS Commission partnered with the SCIFCA and the Arizona Football Coaches Association to put on this event. Under Armour is the official uniform sponsor. Local sponsors include Marriott Riverside Downtown/UCR and Chick-fil-A.
The Canyon Coast Classic All-Star game rotates locations every two years and will be held in Phoeniz, Arizona next year.