COTTONWOOD – Two-hundred, eighty days. That’s how long its been since both Foothill and West Valley took the field, losing in the Northern Section semifinals in their respected divisions.
After a long wait the two square off at The Pasture in Cottonwood Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Shasta County Sports’ first Game of the Week, presented by Redding Rancheria.
Fall camps were limited with wildfire smoke for a month, most notably the Carr Fire, which swept through public lands and destroyed nearly 1,100 homes in west Redding. For players, coaches and Shasta County communities, the longing for normalcy is increasing. And Foothill High head coach Joey Brown thinks high school football could be that outlet people can turn to if they need a distraction. The structure is already helping his players stay focused.
“There’s something to be said about having a schedule and getting into game week where we’re preparing each day specifically for what’s coming and not only to just learn and get better,” said Foothill head coach Joey Brown.
Foothill and West Valley are facing off for the fifth straight year in the season opener. The Cougars have been on the better end of the past two and all four previous meetings have been decided by eight points or less.
Both teams have players ranked in the top 5 in the Football Player Rankings in West Valley running back Bailey Sulzer and Foothill dual-threat quarterback Jayden Gordon. Both are returners so there’s no surprises at all this season about what they’re capable of. Sulzer scored the Eagles’ only touchdown in last year’s meeting on a 50-yard swing pass and rushed for 132 yards.
“You hope when Bailey gets the ball we can get nine guys around him and limit what he can do,” Brown said. “We have to make someone else beat us and make sure we contain him. He’s going to get his (yards), he’s that good. We just have to make sure he doesn’t break out.”
SEE MORE: X-Factors: Foothill at West Valley
On the other side, West Valley has to be sure to corral Gordon. His running ability helped him amass nearly 2,000 yards of offense last year and he strengthened his arm in the offseason to be more of a passing threat.
“Our defense is going to be a big factor and keeping him contained and send a lot of pressure his way,” said West Valley senior receiver and defensive back Devin Low. “We’ll rely on our secondary a lot to keep the receivers close so he doesn’t have any other options.”
West Valley is breaking in a new quarterback in junior Kitt McCloughlan, who is expected to orchestrate the Eagles’ zone-blocking scheme. In the new system, coordinator Ross Griffith expects to run the quarterback more and McCloughlan’s legs give them another weapon in a stacked backfield with Sulzer, Josh Aguilar and Cade Lambert.
Follow us on Twitter at @ShastaCoSports for updates of the games in Shasta County on Friday night.
McQueen (Reno) at Enterprise, 7:30 p.m.
The Hornets open the Chris Combs era with the Reno team that finished 4-6 last year, but returns a host of talent, including Air Force-bound running back JD Kolb. The Lancers are led by senior quarterback Dom Stallworth, who has three-fifths of his offensive linemen returning with Jake Giminez, Xavier Jones and Jake Estepa.
The Hornets will rely on the speedy legs of Leslie Cummings at quarterback. He’s got weapons in wideouts Sean McDonald and Matt Amasaki and running back Jayden Campbell. Defensively, Robert Pixton and Dyllan Johnson should be playmakers for Enterprise.
Shasta at Corning, 7:30 p.m.
The Wolves travel to face the Cardinals after reaching the state title game last year. But gone are wings Seth Park and Vinnie Smith, as well as quarterback Ian Garcia. Now, sophomore James Weaver, transfer Brayden Coon, senior Joe Vericker and fullback Johari Woods will be called to be the next set of Wolves’ backs. Quarterback Brian Kilgore gets the keys to the Shasta offense.
On defense, watch out for sophomore Blayden Stankey ar defensive end and Tony DeBlasio at linebacker.
The Cards lost their two top running backs from 2017 in Curtis McCoy and Nolan Peterson (nearly 2,000 yards combined), and coach John Studer will no doubt find replacements to fill in for the ground-and-pound Corning rushing attack.
Anderson at Red Bluff , 7:30 p.m.
The Spartans are back in the Eastern Athletic League, but meet their former Northern Athletic League foe in the Week Zero opener.
Don Trotter hit 2018 riding high from a 10-3 year that saw them reach the D-III title game. Back for the Cubs are our No. 1 returning player, Parker Phillips, along with Marquice Crowell, Brian Melendez, Joe Carrillo, Mario Martinez and Vaipou Leota. Phillips ran for 1,700-plus yards and 24 scores, while Trotter will look to Leota as his signal caller.
For the Spartans, coach Orlyn Culp is in his third year in Red Bluff and will hand the keys to the offense to 5-10, 160-pound junior Eli Wehbey. He’ll have plenty of weapons, including the Tweedt boys, Blake and Bryce.
Central Valley at Trinity, 7:30 p.m.
Falcons coach Jesse Rogers looks for his first career victory in a tough place to play – Weaverville. CV has installed a new offense – the veer – and will rely on a trio of playmakers to help get the bus rolling. Briston Luchinski is the leader of the Falcons’ line and will pave the way for small, but stout, back Will Flowers. Add in wideout/safety Brett League and CV could build toward bringing winning back to Shasta Lake.
Trinity lost a ton to graduation, but will rely heavily on senior running back Shawn Scribner.
University Prep at Pierce, 7:30 p.m.
The Darren Trueblood era begins for U-Prep down Interstate 5 in Arbuckle. Dylan Cabral, the Panthers’ leading rusher last season, will be under center for the former Enterprise coach’s spread offense. Cole Abel, Ben Burgess and Riley Seay will carry the load in the backfield, while Trayton Laustalot should be a No. 1 target for Cabral.
Etna at Burney, 7:30 p.m.
The numbers are lite for each squad, but Burney returns several seniors including running back Gerardo Villarruel, wideout David Nelson and offensive guard and linebacker Noah Cassell.
BYE: Fall River (0-0)
Redding Christian at Mercy at Sacred Heart (Red Bluff, CA), 1 p.m.
The Lions are coming off a “down” year for them with a 6-4 finish and only a trip to the 8-man semis.
This year, Isaiah VanDenend and sophomore Clark Smith are battling it out for the starting QB nod, while the Lions will have enough beef up front to open holes. Anchoring the stout line is Sam Standifer along with Wyatt Hughes and Caleb Steffen. Coach Gerald Piper can also rotate in Tristan Pantha, Anthony O’Connell and Ryan Luaces.
Other Northern Section games
Yuba City at Pleasant Valley (Chico), 7:30 p.m.
Sutter at Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa), 7 p.m.
Biggs at Hamilton, 7:30 p.m.
East Nicolaus at Willows, 7:30 p.m.
Las Plumas vs. Lassen at Harrison Stadium (Oroville), 7:30 p.m.
Live Oak at Williams, 7:30 p.m.
Modoc at Chester, 7:30 p.m.
Mt. Shasta at Yreka, 7:30 p.m.
Paradise at Orland, 7:30 p.m.
Colusa at Clear Lake, 7:30 p.m.
Coral Academy of Science at Portola, 7:30 p.m.
Durham at Bradshaw Christian, 7:00 p.m.
Esparto at Foresthill, 7:00 p.m.
Maxwell at Woodland Christian, 7 p.m.
Sacramento at Chico, 7:15 p.m.
Wheatland at Marysville, 7:15 p.m.
Winters at Dixon, 7 p.m.
Big Valley at Greenville, 7 p.m.
Hayfork at Princeton, 7 p.m.
McCloud at Dunsmuir, 6 p.m.
Tulelake at Los Molinos, 6 p.m.
Weed at Loyalton, 1 p.m.