Los Angeles Preps: Nephi Garcia

I.E.: A closer look at the Desert Valley League

August, 12, 2011

Last season’s results: Palm Springs (10-2, 5-0); La Quinta (10-3, 4-1); Palm Desert (6-5, 3-2); Coachella Valley (6-5, 2-3); Indio (2-8, 1-4); Cathedral City (0-10, 0-5).

Players to watch: Even with the graduation of the league’s offensive MVP, all-purpose running back Nephi Garcia, Palm Springs definitely owns the edge in returning talent. Not only does the Indians return quarterback Dane Tiedeman but he’ll have a pair of all-league receivers to choose from. Jordan White caught a team-high 34 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns and Nick King did a lot of everything, catching 23 passes for 394 yards and five touchdowns and rushing for 729 yards and nine scores. Perhaps the best player for Palm Springs is linebacker/offensive lineman Kyle Lass, an all-Central Division selection on offense last season and three-year starter on defense. He was a key member of the 2009 team that won the SS-Eastern Division title. Nate Evans, another first-team all leaguer for the Indians, returns at safety. Palm Desert has the top returning ball carrier in senior Tim Santa Maria, who rushed for 1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. He was also an effective pass catcher out of the backfield, accounting for 15 receptions and three touchdowns. The league's best returning athlete is La Quinta senior quarterback Taylor Pope, who is just as valuable on defense and special teams. Pope was named the league’s special teams co-MVP last season, intercepted a pass in Week 2 to seal a 14-3 upset against Colton, the eventual Central Division champion, and orchestrated a second-half comeback from 28 points down against Chino in the second round of the playoffs.

Projected order of finish: Palm Springs, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Coachella Valley, Indio, Cathedral City.

Key games: Sept. 2 – Palm Springs @ Palm Desert; Sept. 16 – La Quinta @ Mission Viejo; Sept. 30 – Palm Desert @ Fontana Kaiser; Oct. 7 – Temecula Chaparral @ Indio; Oct. 28 – Palm Desert @ Palm Springs; Nov. 4 – Palm Springs @ La Quinta; Nov. 11 – Palm Desert @ La Quinta.

Alumni in the NFL: James Dockery, Cleveland Browns (Palm Desert ’06)

Fast fact: For the second consecutive season, Palm Springs and Palm Desert will meet in a nonleague season opener and again during league play. Due to the extreme heat that’s usually still hanging around the Coachella Valley in early September, the schools have had difficulty finding opponents to travel out to the low desert. When the teams met last season, the temperature had reached a record-tying 117 degrees in Palm Springs that day, and was still 108 at kickoff. Palm Springs won the game, 35-20.

On the clock: Inland Valley League.

Inland Empire: Games of the week

November, 23, 2010
The schedule shows Norco is hosting Vista Murrieta in an Inland Division second-round game Friday night, but this match-up has all the appearances of a semifinal.

Norco (9-2) finished third in the Big VIII League, however, the Cougars might just be the second-best team in this division. They also tend to peak this time of year, owning a 19-5 postseason record since 2003, including Inland Division titles in 2006-07.

Norco freshman quarterback Coltin Gerhart has his favorite receiver back, tight end Joshua Long, who missed seven games with a shoulder injury. Stanford-bound running back Kelsey Young has been one of the top ball carriers in the Southland this season.

Vista Murrieta (10-1) is seeded second after winning the Southwestern League. The Broncos are led by Utah-bound quarterback Derrick Brown, who threw a 32-yard touchdown pass with about two minutes left in last season’s semifinals against Norco, lifting Vista Murrieta to a 34-33 victory.

What differentiates these teams is the strength of their schedules this season. The Broncos only played two teams that are still alive in the playoffs. Norco has played five.

Another Inland Division game to see:

Rancho Cucamonga (10-1) at Eastvale Roosevelt (9-2), Friday – These teams don’t feature any star recruits, they just play a hard and fast brand of football.

Rancho Cucamonga running back Sateki Finau has rushed for at least 147 yards in six consecutive games, and quarterback Dimitri Morales has 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the last five games for the third-seeded Cougars.

Roosevelt quarterback Aaron Crone has been similarly efficient, throwing 21 touchdown passes while being intercepted just four times. In the last four games, he has completed 68% of his passes. Sam Boyd has been his No. 1 target, hauling in 43 receptions for 802 yards and nine touchdowns.

Both teams played Murrieta Valley this season with similar results. Roosevelt beat the Nighthawks, 33-12, in Week 2. Rancho Cucamonga knocked off Murrieta Valley, 37-13, in the first round of the playoffs.

ESPNLA.com’s pick: Roosevelt 31, Rancho Cucamonga 27.

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Inland Empire: Five things from the weekend

November, 22, 2010
1. The Baseline League went 3-0 in Inland Division play Friday night, while the Citrus Belt League was 0-3. The biggest upset victory in the division belonged to Etiwanda, the third-place team from the Baseline, which defeated CBL champion Redlands East Valley, 21-16. The Eagles have been forced to outscore teams this season because its defense had allowed an average of 35.6 points coming into the playoffs. The defense came through against REV, however, returning a fourth-quarter fumble 100 yards for a touchdown, stretching its lead to 21-10.

2. What a day for Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Chino Hills. He began Friday by committing to play for Oregon, then went out that night and scored four touchdowns in a 70-42 victory against Corona in an Inland Division first-round game. Ekpre-Olomu had two touchdown runs of six yards, another for 53 and a 100-yard kickoff return for a score. As lopsided as the final score appears, the Huskies led only, 49-42, heading into the fourth quarter.

3. A more impressive fourth-quarter surge was delivered Friday night by Riverside La Sierra in a 54-49 loss to Palm Springs in a Central Division first-round game. The Eagles scored 32 points in the final quarter, turning a laugher into a nail-biter. "I started the night 57 years old and I ended it 83," Palm Springs coach Steve Fabian told the Desert Sun after the game. Fabian decided to rest star running back Nephi Garcia after taking a 37-point lead and nearly regretted it.

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Inland Empire: Five things from the weekend

November, 8, 2010
1. The most exciting finish occurred in the Citrus Belt League. Redlands took a 7-3 lead with just over two minutes remaining Friday night against A.B. Miller of Fontana, but the Rebels took it back on a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback Eric Shufford with 33 ticks left. Down three points again, the Terriers returned the ensuing kickoff to the Miller 11-yard line. With 11 seconds remaining, Redlands quarterback Mike Stallone rolled out looking to throw the ball, but instead ran and was tackled on the one-yard line as time expired. With the 10-7 win, Miller (5-4, 3-1) takes over sole possession of second place and can claim a share of the league title with a victory Thursday against visiting Redlands East Valley (7-2, 4-0).

2. Palm Springs put itself in good position to win its second Desert Valley League title in the last three years with a 16-7 victory against visiting La Quinta. The Indians (8-1, 4-0) just need to beat winless Cathedral City in its final regular season game Friday at Palm Springs High. Nephi Garcia continues to be primary cause of the Indians’ success. He scored both touchdowns against La Quinta and kicked a 34-yard field goal, finishing with 101 rushing yards in 15 carries.

3. How tight is the Mountain Pass League race? Four teams begin the final week of the regular season with 3-1 records. The four-way tie was created Friday night when host Perris Citrus Hill knocked off first-place Hemet West Valley, 15-13. Beaumont and San Jacinto also won their games to move into a tie for first. The league race will be settled Friday night when Beaumont plays West Valley at San Gorgonio Middle School and Citrus Hill travels to San Jacinto. One of the losers will likely miss the playoffs.

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Inland Empire: The Top 10

September, 6, 2010
1. Temecula Chaparral (Southwestern League), 0-0
The Pumas open their season Friday night against visiting Oceanside, the two-time defending Division I state bowl champion which is coming off a 31-7 drubbing at the hands of Servite last Thursday, ending its 39-game winning streak.

2. Vista Murrieta (Southwestern League), 0-0
The Broncos also had the luxury of scouting their first opponent in person last week. Etiwanda, which is scheduled to travel to Vista Murrieta on Friday, allowed 42 points in a seven-point loss Thurday against Summit High of Fontana. Summit doesn't have a bonafide quarterback, but Vista Murrieta surely does in three-year starter Derrick Brown.

3. Corona Centennial (Big VIII League), 0-0
Centennial has been chomping at the bit to get started this season and first up is an intersectional game at Birmingham High of Lake Balboa, which is coming off a 16-7 victory Friday against West Adams of Los Angeles, its first victory in a season opener since 2001.

4. Norco (Big VIII League), 0-0
One of the more intriguing intersectional matchups of the season will happen Friday when Norco hosts Crenshaw of Los Angeles. Crenshaw is led by running back De'Anthony Thomas, who has verbally committed to USC. Norco will lean on running back Kelsey Young, who has pledged to Stanford.

5. Riverside Arlington (Inland Valley League), 0-0
Arlington will open its season Friday against host El Camino of Oceanside, which scored on a blocked punt, a fumble return and a kickoff return in a 36-7 victory Saturday against Gardena. The Wildcats best defender is ophomore linebacker Justin Williams, who had three sacks against Gardena and scored on the fumble return.

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Inland Empire: Preseason Top 10

August, 31, 2010
1. Temecula Chaparral (Southwestern League)

The Pumas earned the right to strut after winning the Inland Division title last season, and they have the goods to back it up with the return of last season’s Inland Division co-offensive player of the year, Antoine Arnold, and co-defensive player of the year, Darius Guillory.

2. Vista Murrieta (Southwestern League)

Can we just fast forward to Oct. 14? Of course, that’s when the Broncos are scheduled to host Chaparral in their Southwestern League opener. Quarterback Derrick Brown, a three-year starter, has been eyeing that date since last December.

3. Corona Centennial (Big VIII League)

The 2008 Division I state bowl champions aren’t accustomed to looking up at others in the rankings. At least they’ll have a chance to do something about it, traveling to Chaparral for a nonleague game Sept. 24. Centennial is also led by a fleet-footed returning quarterback, senior Michael Eubank.

4. Upland (Baseline League)

Fresh off a Central Division title run, the Highlanders will bank on the depth of their running game and the health of quarterback Justin Nunes to make noise in the newly joined Inland Division. Two key transfers from Alta Loma won’t hurt either.

5. Norco (Big VIII League)

Norco has a Gerhart and another talented running back headed to Stanford. A few years ago, it was state career rushing leader Toby Gerhart. This season it’s senior running back Kelsey Young and freshman quarterback Coltin Gerhart, the youngest brother of Toby.

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