Inland Empire: Games of the week

Nobody expected Temecula Chaparral or Upland to win Southern Section titles last season either.

But then the Pumas got on a roll after finishing second in the Southwestern League and slipped by one quality opponent after another in the Inland Division playoffs, winning their first section title with a 13-7 victory against Southwestern League champ Vista Murrieta.

Over at Upland, the Highlanders squeaked into the Central Division playoffs as a wild card out of the Baseline League, then capped their championship run with a 19-7 victory against Baseline champion Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos.

Upland, now a member of the Inland Division, will host Chaparral in the opening round of playoffs Friday at 7 p.m. and, once again, both teams will enter the postseason having not fulfilled preseason expectations of winning league titles.

No worries.

The second season is here.

One of these teams is guaranteed to see their playoff hopes end in the first round, however. The other will move onto the second round and probably have their next opponent wondering: Here we go again?

Chaparral (4-6) showed as much life last Thursday in a 27-20 victory against Murrieta Valley as it has all season. Then again, the Pumas were faced with the possibility of missing the playoffs if they lost.

Antoine Arnold, considered one of the top receivers in the Inland Empire, had the best game of his injury-filled season, catching six passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

Likewise, the Highlanders (7-3) enter the playoffs spinning on all cylinders. Cole Chapman and Donta Abron, Jr. displayed Upland’s balanced rushing attack last Friday when they each totaled over 100 yards in a 41-38 victory against Los Osos.

Just how balanced is the run game?

Chapman and Abron each have 118 carries this season, while Abron has 10 touchdowns and Chapman nine.

Three more to see:

Corona (5-5) at Chino Hills (8-2), Friday – This is another Inland Division first-round game that could come down to the wire. Both teams are led by standout defensive players who are receiving plenty of Pac-10 Conference attention.

Chino Hills is led by running back/defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a game-changer on both sides of the ball. Corona’s defense is anchored by defensive end DeVante Wilson, who has 9 ½ sacks this season. ESPNLA’s prediction: Chino Hills 23, Corona 17.

Norco (8-2) at Redlands (7-2-1), Friday – Norco’s passing game has been missing in action for most of the season, allowing defenses to focus on Stanford-bound running back Kelsey Young. However, the Cougars received a boost last game when tight end Joshua Long returned from a six-game absence due to shoulder injury.

His presence was immediately felt in the 21-14 victory against Corona, catching a 37-yard first-quarter touchdown.

Redlands has been somewhat erratic this season, beating Rancho Cucamonga, the third-seeded team in this division, but then losing to Fontana Miller, a non-qualifier for the playoffs. Depending on which Redlands’ team shows up, this could be a thriller. ESPNLA’s prediction: Norco 34, Redlands 21.

Palm Desert (6-4) at San Bernardino San Gorgonio (6-4), Friday – San Gorgonio enters the Central Division playoffs on a six-game winning streak after beginning the season 0-4. The Aztecs are headed in the opposite direction, having lost two of their last three.

That said, this game will likely come down to defense.

Palm Desert has forced 26 turnovers and produced 26 ½ sacks. San Gorgonio has forced 23 turnovers and owns 27 sacks. Probably more impressive, the Spartans held top-seeded Moreno Valley Rancho Verde to a season-low 28 points in Week 1.

ESPNLA.com's prediction: San Gorgonio 21, Palm Desert 13.