Bracket Breakdown: Jun Ahn leads Sunny Hills into CIF Southern Section Division 8 football semifinals

Here’s an inside look at this week’s 2019 CIF Southern Section Division 8 semifinal football games.

CIF-SS Division 8 bracket | All football brackets

No. 1 Sunny Hills vs. Trabuco Hills

Bold prediction, and potential spoiler: the team that will win this game has “Hills” in their name. In case that’s not enough analysis for you, Sunny Hills (10-2) is the favorite to win Division 8, but every team left in the field has a reasonable chance, Trabuco Hills (8-4) included. And the best part about this game is, these two squads already played each other this year right before league play, and it went to overtime, with Sunny Hills pulling out a 41-34 victory.

Other than Sunny Hills, Trabuco Hills lost to stellar competition in Villa Park, Capistrano Valley, and San Juan Hills. They’re currently on a five-game winning streak that included upsetting an Aliso Niguel team that was on fire at the time, and they beat San Gorgonio surprisingly badly last week, 34-7, to show just how serious they are. If they were to knock off Sunny Hills this week, they’d have to be slightly favored in the finals against whoever they’d be up against. Speaking of Aliso Niguel, Sunny Hills lost to them by one point in the season opener, and got blown out as expected against La Habra in league. Outside of those two teams, they haven’t lost.

Sunny Hills has the absolute best playmaker in Division 8 in RB Jun Ahn, who has 1,663 rushing yards, 26 rushing touchdowns, and 244 receiving yards to boot. Luke Duxbury is a very steady passer at QB who can also run the ball a bit. Wilson Cal gets more than half the overall action of all receivers with 922 receiving yards, but RB/SB Brandon Roberts is often the guy Duxbury goes to in the end zone, along with being the fourth leading rusher on the squad. Vince Silva and David Harris provide even more strong rushing threats at RB.

Defensively, the Lancers funnel everything into the best linebacking core in the division with Carson Irons leading the way at 138 tackles and Silva, Noah Hu, and Kevin Brown combining for 211. Duxbury doubles as a DE and Roberts doubles as a DE. Their defense is complete across the board.

Trabuco Hills, much like Sunny Hills, prefers to run the ball with sophomore Drew Barrett clocking in at 1,124 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, but they can pass it well enough to keep defenses honest. Jaxon Smaller (pro-style) and Aidan Armstrong (dual-threat) split time every game at quarterback, and Jake Naso is the primary threat at receiver. Also like Sunny Hills, they let their linebackers do most of the hitting, with MLB Zach Porter as the cleanup man and OLB/SS Chris Crow also a major factor.

The numbers say Trabuco Hills hasn’t been quite as good as Sunny Hills this season, but factor out their much stronger preseason schedule and they’re nearly at the same level. Sunny Hills remains the No. 1 threat to win Division 8 and has earned that demarcation, but the Mustangs are formidable and can’t be slept on as dark horse challengers for the Division 8 title.

No. 2 Santa Barbara vs. No. 3 Palmdale

Afroman once asked, “where them Falcons at?” The answer is, they’re in the semifinals with a great chance to win it all. Speaking of Aliso Niguel from earlier, Palmdale has also faced them, beating them by one last week in the quarterfinals, in case that shows how much parity there is amongst the remaining Division 8 contenders. They also beat Highland by one point earlier in the season, which means they have what it takes to win out, but their one loss on the season came against Canyon (Canyon Country) who finished 2-9, which means they aren’t quite infallible. 

Hopefully they’re up for one of their biggest tests of the season yet in Santa Barbara, who hasn’t lost this season to anyone except St. Bonaventure and Pacifica (Oxnard) before league play. This game is an absolute tossup and will likely come down to the wire.

It’s no secret that Palmdale is going to run the ball more often than not, with RB Tyjoun Cavins leading the way offensively with 12 rushing touchdowns and 724 rushing yards, and QB Marcus Hearn under center as a dual-threat. Hearn has less than 50-percent completion on the season, but has thrown 15 touchdowns to four picks and averages over 20 yards per completion, so the Falcons can certainly punish you if you load up too much on the ground. Darl Jordan and Anthony Woods have also been contributors at running back this season. Jayden Sheridan and Steven Godbolt are the top options at wide receiver when they do throw the ball.

Santa Barbara prefers to throw the ball behind Wisconsin-commit Deacon Hill, a pass-first dual-threat QB. They don’t have any clear top option at running back, but Hill and RBs Ty Montgomery, Justin Perez, and Robert Boyton have all been options this season when it’s time to run, and they go to the run-game for touchdowns as much on the ground as in the air.

Palmdale’s front seven has been a major plus for them this season behind DT Karl Key, DE Antonio Bittar, and LBs Anthony Woods, Jose Cacho, and Walenn Lovell. Bittar in particular is a big edge rushing threat for a squad that never lacks in tackles for loss. Charlie Figueroa and John Valencia anchor Santa Barbara’s defense at linebacker as well, but they rely on their secondary a bit more for getting stops, particularly DB Dakota Hill.

Division 8 has two must-see games between evenly-matched foes, and this is one of them. Santa Barbara was slept on a bit for a while whereas Palmdale has been considered a title contender all season. At this point, all that matters is who brings it on Friday.  

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