Thursday, October 30, 2008

Friday Night Lights

Daily Bulletin photo
For a high school football game, last Friday’s Los Osos-Upland contest had all the bells and whistles. This one had two best teams in the Inland Empire, featuring two future NCAA Division I quarterbacks. The pre-game attention was magnified by stories in most Southern California newspapers and blogs (including this one). Fox Sports Net Prime televised it live.

Fans expecting an aerial shootout between Los Osos quarterback Richard Brehaut and Upland QB Josh Nunes might have felt this game fell short of the hype. But football fans who saw the game were reminded again that football shouldn’t be evaluated only by the numbers.

The story lines from this game were obvious: Los Osos dominated both sides of the ball in its 41-28 victory, which wasn’t as close as the score. Running back Arby Fields led a strong running attack and scored four touchdowns. The Grizzly defense shut down the high-powered Upland offense and limited it to two touchdowns (Upland’s two other TDs came directly from turnovers).

But there was so much more, beginning with Los Osos quarterback Richard Brehaut. Despite throwing for (only) 170 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for another 108 yards and a TD, the thing that is most impressive about Richard is his leadership ability and field presence. He has a definite command of the game. It shows in his body language, but is more evident with his actions. I remember noticing those traits when I watched him play as a sophomore and junior, but now his confidence and physical skills have clearly elevated him to a new level.

Watching him Friday, it’s no surprise he is considered the No. 4 high school quarterback in the United States, and that UCLA offered him a scholarship. They have to love what they see. Even though he threw an interception that was run back for a touchdown Friday, he never lost his head. He responded by moving his team, even though Upland took a 21-20 lead at the half. But he led three Grizzly TD drives in the second half. Brehaut can clearly think on his feet, and if his first option isn’t there, he does a good job of improvising.

Fantasy football fans would have been throwing their sandwiches at the TV when one of the Los Osos receivers was ruled down on the one-yard line. Replays showed the receiver rolled over the defender and didn’t hit the ground until he was in the end zone. Los Osos scored on the next play, but Richard didn’t get credit for the TD pass. Well, that’s not what Rich Neuheisel and Norm Chow care about anyway.

Josh Nunes had a tougher time for Upland. He hadn’t seen that strong of a defense all season, and the Grizzlies held him without a TD pass and he was intercepted twice. The Upland offense was shut out in the second half. I think the reason Los Osos defense was so good was because it was unpredictable. Josh is a very good quarterback within the scripted system. He has a different kind of presence behind the offensive line. He is great at getting rid of the ball quickly and usually doesn’t feel the pressure. He’s able to mix things up to sell the play-action and buy time to throw mid-range and deeper passes, too. Because of that, the Upland offense can be unstoppable at times. But that’s when it is able to follow the game plan. The Los Osos defense threw different looks at Upland, and the Highlanders didn’t know how to respond. Upland had trouble adjusting and improvising, not only in the booth and on the sidelines, but on the field as well. If the play didn’t unfold the way it did in practice or in the playbook, then it didn’t work.

Now that the showdown is out of the way, it will be interesting to see how both Los Osos and Upland respond the rest of the season. While not the high-profile game of last week, the Grizzlies might have their toughest game of the season this week when they play Rancho Cucamonga. The undefeated Cougars may not be as good as Upland, but they have their own talented quarterback and more speed than any team in the league. Their skill position guys are all sprinters on the track team, and Rancho Cucamonga typically sweeps most of the Baseline League sprints.

Like last year, when there was a three-way tie for first place, it will be hard for any team in the Baseline League to go undefeated.

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