Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of this week’s 2019 CIF Southern Section Division 2 semifinal football games.
Sierra Canyon lost to Oaks Christian in Week 3, and other than that, they’re 11-0. Their impressive list of conquered foes includes Westlake, Lawndale, Grace Brethren, Paraclete, and now Vista Murrieta. For the most part, their defense has been the key, although their playoff wins against Santa Margarita and Vista Murrieta were surprisingly high-scoring.
Rancho Cucamonga is 9-3 with losses to Norco and Calabasas and a forfeited win against Etiwanda, but they’re in the same exact ballpark. They don’t have quite as many quality wins as Sierra Canyon, but in the last three weeks, they’ve beaten Upland, Murrieta Valley, and Long Beach Poly with room to spare. Those count as statement wins that the Cougars are in the running for the Division 2 title and they know it.
There’s no question that Sierra Canyon has a better defense and Rancho Cucamonga has a better offense, although both teams have been hot on both sides of the ball as of late. On defense, the Trailblazers are very quick and execute well, with a strong secondary led by 3-star cornerback DJ Harvey and FS Kamari Ramsey. Both members of their star LB duo of JD Hernandez and Drue Watts have over 100 tackles on the season, and Cole Bullock and Angelo Pulido add 85 and 61, respectively. DEs Caden Harman and Zach Thannum lead an undersized but effective defensive line.
Offensively, Sierra Canyon doesn’t have as much firepower as Rancho Cucamonga, but they have a number of strong contributors and rarely blunder. QB Chayden Peery has thrown for 2,571 passing yards this season on only one interception. They have a number of strong RBs in JD Sumlin (who splits time between RB and WR), Jason Jones, and Brendon Gamble. DJ Harvey doubles as a standout WR and is flanked by Sumlin and Donovan Williams.
On that side of the ball, the Cougars have easily the biggest names. Quarterback CJ Stroud is the highest-profile player in this game, and one of the best QBs in the country. The 4-star recruit is mulling offers from the likes of Ohio State, Georgia, Oregon, UCLA, and Michigan, and has already thrown for 3,566 yards and 46 touchdowns this season. WRs Jayden Dixon-Veal and Silas Bolden both have well over 1,000 receiving yards on the season, and Bolden runs the ball at times as well. He’s the third option behind 3-star recruit Elijah Monroe and Quentin Moten, who’s a 3-star CB. Washington State commit Julian Ripley leads a strong offensive line.
Defense hasn’t been Rancho Cucamonga’s strong suit, but they are far from a liability on that side of the ball, and have been defending especially well in recent weeks. Moten is a standout in the secondary along with Jordan Webb. ILB Derick Rabadan does the most bulldozing at 5-11, 245, along with DL Lance Shorter and Esaia Bogar, and Landon Toll.
Another big difference between these teams is age. Rancho Cucamonga is stacked with experienced seniors, and Sierra Canyon depends heavily on a lot of sophomores and juniors. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a thing if everyone shows up putting their best foot forward.
This should be an extremely evenly matched game that’s anyone’s for the taking. With so many experienced playmakers, it’s hard not to give the edge to Rancho Cucamonga, but Sierra Canyon is the top seed in the division for a reason.
UPDATE: San Clemente has been disqualified from the playoffs because of an ineligible player. Chaminade will automatically advance to the championship game, according to Southern Section officials.
In case you haven’t heard, it’s been a tale of two halves of the season for Chaminade, and it’s almost impossible to know what to make of them other than putting no upset past them. They looked like arguably the weakest team in the Mission League after a 2-3 preseason, and then went 3-2 in league before knocking out Norco and Upland in playoff thrillers. With all the momentum they have, there’s no reason not to consider them at the top of the hunt for the division title–all four contestants legitimately have roughly equal chances at bringing it home.
San Clemente (10-2) has been steady this season, with decisive losses coming to elite squads in Corona del Mar and Mission Viejo. Everything else has been a strong victory, and last week’s win over sizzling hot Rancho Verde was possibly their most impressive of the season. Whereas Chaminade has a strong defense but really likes to push the pace on offense, San Clemente is a defensive team through and through that really likes to slow down the pace. Watching who controls the tempo in this matchup will be a key determinant.
Both squads are led by excellent dual-threat quarterbacks, and this is likely to be a duel between them. Jaylen Henderson has been one of the guiding forces all year for Chaminade with 2,240 passing yards and 634 rushing. Nick Billoups isn’t the slinger that Henderson is, and he often sees minutes as a de facto makeshift running back with Drayton Joseph often in the mix at QB, but he’s also a dual-threat D-1 prospect and a standout cornerback on the other end too.
Along with Henderson, RB/WR Willy Camacho shoulders a lot of the load for Chaminade. He has over 1,000 rushing yards on the season and is the Eagles’ second-leading receiver behind freshman Ian Duarte. Look out for OT Brian Oney as well–at 6-7, 270, you won’t miss him. Defensively, Chaminade has one of the best safety tandems around in Isaac Gallegos, who has 109 tackles this season, and Tommy Sykes. Jeremy Zuaniga and Daluan Bright round out their excellent secondary. LBs Bryce Mack and Nick Stone lead the charge for a front seven that has been up and down this season, but holding it down quite well for a good chunk of weeks now.
Along with Billoups, RB James Bohls is a major catalyst on offense for San Clemente. 3-star ATH and BYU-commit Preston Rex is their leading receiver, along with Cian Smith. Cole Thompson is one of the better kickers in the Southern Section for the Tritons. Rex, Billoups, and Cole Batson make up one of the best defensive backfields in SoCal. Caiden Robertson, Charles Clifford, and Trenton Brail form a slightly undersized but very effective linebacking unit.
There’s really not a whole lot separating these squads. Chaminade is less consistent but more explosive, and if you only look at league play and onward, they’ve been consistent, so there’s not much not to like. The Eagles have the edge on offense and the Tritons have the edge on defense, and their preferred paces are different, but they really have a lot of similar strengths overall. San Clemente rarely makes mistakes and is No. 2 for a reason, but the way both of these teams are rolling, it would be hard to call either team a favorite or underdog.