Saturday, December 3, 2022

Prep football: 2022 season kicks off with Zero Week

Vista Murrieta’s Grant Wayne catches a 24-yard touchdown pass from Akili Smith Jr. late in the third quarter. Valley News/David Canales photo

— Somehow, the first official week of high school football in California has arrived, which means, yes, summer is on the way out, making way for fall, but it also means…Zero Week games. Thursday, Aug. 18, marked the start of prep football in the Southwest Riverside County region, and that can be equally as exciting as it stressful to a coaching staff for any number of reasons.

Whether it is scheduling issues, paperwork, transfers, physicals, etc., anything can make for a huge scramble to get ready for the season. According to the rules laid down by the Southern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation, players are required to have nine days of practice before scrimmaging or playing in a game. Zero Week games are becoming increasingly popular since this first game results in a bye-week somewhere during the preseason, leading up to a breath of fresh air in the grand scheme of things.

It gives the banged-up guys a week off to heal, and it gives teams an extra week of preparation for the next week’s football game. Most coaches and players always prefer getting the season started early since they have been working out all summer together and would much rather be lining up across from someone else other than their own teammate.

Paloma Valley’s Sofia Desirello (22) takes the handoff from Brady Nelson (12) during their season opener at Temescal Canyon High School Friday, Aug. 19. Valley News/Action Captures Media Group

Despite Friday Night Lights taking place all over the area, the Valley News Sports Department will be focusing on the schools and sports inside a limited coverage area this year, due to print space and manpower. Those schools include Great Oak, Temecula Valley, Chaparral, Murrieta Valley, Murrieta Mesa, Vista Murrieta, Linfield Christian, Rancho Christian, Elsinore, Paloma Valley, Liberty, St. Jeanne de Lestonnac, Heritage, Temecula Prep, Hamilton (Anza), Cornerstone Christian, Temescal Canyon, Lakeside and the River Springs Charter Schools.

Scores from the Week Zero high school football games involving local teams inside our coverage area were reported as follows:

8/18 (Thursday)

Liberty (1-0) – 28, Valley View (0-1) – 27

Colony (1-0) – 14, Temecula Valley (0-1) – 7

8/19 (Friday)

Murrieta Mesa (0-1) – 13, Beaumont (1-0) – 17

Vista Murrieta (1-0) – 20, Great Oak (0-1) – 14

Linfield Christian (1-0) – 41, Loara (0-1) – 7

Elsinore (1-0) – 34, Grand Terrace (0-1) – 32

Lakeside (1-0) – 15, Arlington (0-1) – 14

Heritage (0-1) – 30, Steele Canyon (1-0) – 41

Temescal Canyon (0-1) – 37, Paloma Valley (1-0) – 41

Rancho Christian (1-0) – 48, Cathedral City (0-1) – 14

8/20 (Saturday)

Hamilton (Anza) (0-1) -30, St. Jeanne de Lestonnac – 58

Chaparral (0-1) – 33, Mission Hills (1-0) – 44

Army-Navy (1-0) – 29, Temecula Prep (0-1) – 0

This past week our sports department keyed in on Temecula Valley’s away game and Vista Murrieta’s home game, where the Broncos, who went 8-4 last season, welcomed Great Oak for their home opener.

For the Golden Bears, they traveled Thursday, Aug. 18, to Ontario to face a familiar foe in Colony High School, who they beat 44-21 in their non league matchup last season. Both would go on to be CIF Southern Section finalists.

That was then as this year would be a different story. Running back Armon Hornsby’s first-half touchdown set the tone for Colony, whose defense held Temecula Valley scoreless until the fourth quarter. Hornsby had 37 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown, while freshman safety Andre Johnson returned an interception for a touchdown in Colony’s season-opening 14-7 victory over the Golden Bears.

Temecula Valley struggled to get the ball near the endzone all night until Bryce Dewald entered at quarterback in the fourth quarter for the Golden Bears. Dewald got Temecula Valley into Colony territory before a tipped pass was caught by Johnson and returned 88 yards for a 14-0 lead with less than nine minutes to play.

A botched punt led to a fumble in the end zone for Colony and Temecula Valley’s first touchdown of the season when senior linebacker Blake Nichols picked up the ball for the score. Colony would hold onto the ball to finish the game with a 10-play, 81-yard drive.

Great Oak’s Angelo Ruperto (21) is brought down by a swarm of Bronco defenders led by Kuron Jabari Jr. (18). Valley News/David Canales photo

Back home in Murrieta, the Great Oak Wolfpack looked like they were going to pick up their first win over the Broncos since 2017. With the return of Scott Strosnider (who started the program back in 2004), Great Oak stunned Vista Murrieta when they went ahead 14-3 early in the game. The Broncos, who took an early 3-0 lead on a 41-yard Elliot Moulton Rhodes field goal, had won 15 of their previous 16 matchups against the visiting Wolfpack. Vista Murrieta would turn things around when they scored touchdowns on its first two drives of the second half. Sophomore quarterback Akili Smith Jr. led Vista Murrieta on a seven-play, 85-yard drive which led to a 24-yard touchdown pass to Brody Guinn to cut the Wolfpack lead to 14-10. On their next drive, at the Great Oak three-yard line, Smith found Guinn again for a 17-14 lead.

Moulton Rhodes added a 31-yard field goal with 1:55 to go in the game, putting them up by a touchdown, minus the extra point. Great Oak then drove to the Broncos’ 27-yard line, but two penalties and a last-play fumble ended the game in the hands of Vista Murrieta, 20-14.

Smith ended the night completing 21 of 26 passes for 229 yards. Guinn hauled in nine catches for 73 yards and Grant Wayne had eight receptions for 102 yards.

Cole Vasquez completed 13 of 25 passes for 213 yards while Remington Churchward led the Wolfpack receivers with four catches for 45 yards. Great Oak went 3-7 last season in the Southwestern League, which no longer exists. The two teams have been put in opposite halves of the new Big West Conference this year. The Big West upper division consists of Centennial, Vista Murrieta, Roosevelt, Chaparral, Murrieta Valley and Norco. The Big West lower division consists of Murrieta Mesa, Temecula Valley, Great Oak, King, Corona and Santiago.

Other local team wins in Week Zero came from Elsinore, Paloma Valley, Linfield Christian, Rancho Christian, Lakeside and St. Jeanne de Lestonnac.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at

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