Here’s an inside look at this week’s 2019 CIF Southern Section Division 11 semifinal football games.
Despite coming into the playoffs as the fourth seed, Muir has been considered the standalone favorite to win Division 11 since very early in the season. Like Crescenta Valley in Division 10 above them who ended their Pacific League title dreams late in the season, Muir has often seemed out of place in Division 11. Behind an energetic and well-rounded defense, Mustangs are the heavy favorite to win out and would likely win playoff games in Divisions 5 and 6, but have strong enough competition that nothing is set in stone.
Coming into the playoffs, Linfield Christian was an afterthought to most. But after shocking top-seeded Beaumont and holding strong last week against Pasadena, they clearly are not to be taken lightly. Their only losses this season came to Aliso Niguel, Ontario Christian, and Aquinas, and they’ve put up some huge numbers against a lot of overmatched foes. Clearly, the Lions are far bigger of a playoff threat than expected, and Beaumont was by far the best team they’ve beaten all year. Still, they’ll need to pull off another major upset to continue their underdog run.
Looking at how far out Muir is in front of the field on paper, you’d think their offense has put up ungodly numbers this season, but they’ve more just been steady, winning a lot of defensive battles. The Mustangs have two quarterbacks with well over 1,000 passing yards this season in Amaris Harrison and Erik Wallace. Harrison, a dual-threat, is also arguably the biggest running threat on the team, along with RB Tyrikk Lawson. Muir has a great receiving corps led by Calen Bullock, who has 15 college offers, and John Humphrey (not to be confused with Corona del Mar WR John Humphreys), with Lawson and Joseph Dolloway both firmly in the mix. The four of them have combined for well over 2,100 receiving yards on the season.
Even if Muir has potentially the best offense in the division, what really makes Muir dominant is their defense in all facets. Humphrey is a high 3-star recruit at CB and UCLA-commit who leads a defensive backfield that rarely falters. De’Lon Reed, Asa Roberson, and 4-star junior Jamier Johnson are also strong CBs who sometimes see minutes at safety. Muir’s front seven has been a major strength all season, and has a combination of physical tools and energy that has caused major problems for nearly every team they’ve faced this season. DT/DE Carlos Ramirez is the best edge rusher on the squad and a major energetic leader on the field. Ramirez and DT Kamar Watkins lead a defensive line that any Division 11 squad will be hard-pressed to handle. MLB Chuck Shull and OLB Adrian Zepeda are also standouts in the front seven.
Linfield Christian’s biggest overall strength is a prolific running attack with too many threats. Justin Manqueros has 1,382 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns, Crispin Wong has 1,249 and 15, and Blake Allen has 609 and 11. Michael Harkins is yet another rushing option as a dual-threat QB who passes efficiently when the Lions opt to pass it every now and again. Leading receiver Brye Lighon is a force at TE and a high-major D-1 prospect in the class of 2021, primarily for his work at DE. Lighon, Wong at WR/SB, and WRs Jalen Leonard and Jalani Jefferson all share equally as receiving threats.
The Lions are just as strong on defense as offense. While they don’t get a ton of sacks, Linfield Christian’s defensive line is a huge part of what they do. Lighon and Marshall Wiese lead the charge at DE in addition to Jason Locke, with 6-2, 295-pound Coby Nile wreaking havoc at DT. MLB Zach Williams and OLB Ryland Jeremiah are also major contributors to the interior defense. Manqueros (SS) and Wong (CB) are big factors in the secondary when they aren’t running the ball.
How big of an underdog is Linfield Christian? Last week they beat Pasadena 28-21 in one of their best-played games of the year. Muir beat Pasadena 33-0 in league play like it was nothing. An upset is unlikely, but it would be a stretch to say the Lions don’t have a chance.
This game features a seeded favorite against an at-large underdog as well, although Hemet has to like their chances a lot more this week than Linfield Christian. Hemet has long been on our list of underdog playoff threats because of their hard schedule, numerous close games this year, and strong defense even against teams in higher divisions. Last week they knocked off No. 3 El Rancho 35-32 despite having arguably their worst game defensively of the season. They’re 8-4, but their losses have come to Chaparral, J.W. North, Beaumont, and San Jacinto, so their record doesn’t mean too much.
Marina (10-2) is the favorite here, with wins this season over Segerstrom and Katella. The Vikings won the second seed for a reason, even if there isn’t a huge gap between them and Hemet. A lot of people had fairly low expectations for Marina coming into this season, but they’ve earned all the credit they’ve gotten.
The Vikings have two quarterbacks who get fairly equal playing time every game in dual-threat Gavin Del Toro and pro-style Jack Miller. Miller got injured last week against Ontario Christian and will be sorely missed if he’s out this week, but they’ll be in good shape either way with Del Toro. Overall, their offense has a nice balance between passing and running. Pharoah Rush has a great name for a running back, and is Marina’s top ground option with over 1,000 rushing yards on the season. Brantt Riederich has had a strong season as the Vikings’ RB2 as well. Dane Brenton and Eric Curch are the top options at receiver, with Gavin Dykema among others also in the mix.
Marina has a well-balanced defense, with Darren Vasquez at DE, Nathan O’Rourke, Conner Long, and Ryder Malloy at LB, and Eric Church in the backfield. All five of those guys have over 80 tackles on the season, and O’Rourke has a whopping 132. Pass-rushing is a strength for the Vikings defensively, which may bode well against the Bulldogs this week.
Hemet generally plays at a slower pace than Marina, but also has a solid mix of both passing and running yardage in their offense. Outside of his 12 interceptions, dual-threat QB Jeremiah Graves has had a great year with 1,810 passing yards, 624 rushing yards, and 27 total touchdowns. He’s the top rushing option and really carries the bulk of the offensive weight, but Maximus Moore and Bradley Fye also get rushing opportunities at RB. The Bulldogs have an excellent WR in Ethan Leonard, who has 915 receiving yards and ten touchdowns this season. Travis Morgan is one of a few guys who also have had some big moments at receiver this year.
Marina is definitely the favorite in this battle, but don’t be too surprised to see a gritty Hemet squad in the finals either.