by Christopher Mohr
November 13, 2010 (La Mesa) - Friday night's football game at Helix High School between the host Highlanders and the visiting Cougars from Steele Canyon High School effectively amounted to a league championship game. The CIF may not have planned it that way, but both teams have had outstanding seasons; Helix had a 9-0 record, while Steele Canyon was 8-1.
The game began as a stalemate, but the Cougars blinked first, making costly mistakes that the Highlanders capitalized on en route to a 26-7 win and a Grossmont Hills league title.
In the first quarter it was the defense of both teams that shined. The hard hitting play made it evident that both teams knew how important this game was. The Highlanders were unable to get much of a running game going with their star running back, Darrien Hancock because the Cougars' defense keyed on him with good gap coverage and gang tackling.
In a similar fashion, Steele Canyon could not get their running game going as their featured back, Jake Wragg could not find any openings. As a result both teams traded punts for most of the first quarter.
When Wragg was finally able to find an opening and gain seven yards, he lost the ball on a fumble, which was recovered by Helix. The Highlanders made the Cougars play for the miscue a few plays later when Brandon Lewis connected with Cameron Lee on a 24 yard pass play that put Helix ahead 7-0.
In spite of the deficit, the Cougars continued to play the hard-hitting style defense that they had played earlier. Brandon Watson made some big plays for Steele Canyon with a sack and an interception off a deflection. A 7-0 deficit was not impossible for them to overcome this early in the game.
Helix finally broke through on a drive aided by a pass interference penalty against the Cougars. The penalty moved the ball to the Cougars' 23-yard line and set up a 23 yard touchdown run by Hancock, giving Helix a 14-0 lead.
The Cougars' woes continued when a pass from Brad Boemke was intercepted by Romello Carbuccia. The Highlanders responded with a 27 yard field goal from Vann Sabin to extend the Helix lead to 17-0.
The Highlanders ran a well executed hurry-up offense and added another field goal before halftime from Sabin, this one from 36 yards, to make the score 20-0. The drive came after the Cougars turned the ball over on downs when they failed to convert on a fourth-and-two play.
In the third quarter, the Cougars got a huge break when a bad Helix punt gave them great field position. Boehmke later found James on a 24 yard pass play that made the score 20-7. There was still plenty of time for the Cougars to come back.
The Cougars' defense played aggressively the whole game, but faced a challenging situation in the third quarter when they had two consecutive pass interference penalties called against them. They stopped the Highlanders on a fourth-and-short play, giving their offense another chance to shrink the Highlanders' lead.
The Cougars' offense was not able to take advantage of the opportunity. A pass from Boehmke to Chancellor James was picked off by 6'3" Helix defender Kenny Keys. Keys, who also plays on the Highlanders' basketball team, used his jumping ability to grab the ball.
"I just read the quarterback and I saw it opened up to their star receiver. Chancellor, he's a good reciever, but I opened up and read the quarterback, jumped up and made a play," said Keys about the play. He finished the game with two interceptions.
A couple of big runs by Raymont Nailon moved Helix down the field quickly. The Cougars' aggressive defense had been on the field a long time and showed signs of fatigue as Nailon powered his way through the line. Lewis then connecte with Austin Gonzalez on a 20 yard pass that made the score 26-7.
The Cougars were not able to generate much of a threat after that. Helix got the win and the Grossmont Hills league title, while preserving their undefeated season.
Jim Arnaiz Field has proven inhospitable to opposing teams this season. With Friday's game, the Highlanders have outscored their opponents 201-24 on their home field. Steele Canyon needed an almost perfect game to win, but the mistakes were too difficult to overcome.
"It's an amazing feeling, we're league champs, it doesn't get any better than that," Lewis said about the win.
Helix improved to 10-0 with the win while Steele Canyon dropped to 8-2. Both teams wait to see who their next opponent will be when the CIF announces playoff pairings.
Christopher Mohr is a freelance writer in the San Diego area and is an avid Chargers, Padres and
H - Lee 24 pass from Lewis (Sabin kick)
H - Hancock 23 run (Sabin kick)
H - FG Sabin 27
H - FG Sabin 36
SC - James 14 pass from Boehmke (Uribe kick)
H - Gonzalez 20 pass from Lewis (pass failed)