"It was the biggest play of my life. We had a whole line of blockers and I went the whole way untouched." -- Zach Breidt, after scoring a 95-yard touchdown.
By Christopher Mohr
September 8, 2010 (Santee) - For years, the battle for the Mayor's Cup has been a tradition between Santana and West Hills, rival high schools both based in Santee.
The two schools are so close geographically, that both are in the same zip code and many commuters pass by one school while on the way to the other. It is not unusual to see families with connections to both schools. Some families have parents who attended one school but whose children are enrolled in the other. Some have rival parents with one Santana alum and one West Hills alum.
Another common situation was to have a parent who was enrolled in one school as a freshman, but who graduated from the other school, a common occurrance for those who graduated only a couple of years after West Hills was built in the late 1980s.
What's unusual about this season's matchup is that it takes place at the beginning of the season. Instead of playing the Mayor's Cup game in November as many rivalry games are traditionally played, league realignment makes this a non-league game leaving both teams no choice but to face each other in the early part of the season.
Both teams were in the Grossmont North league in 2009, but in 2010 the Grossmont North and Grossmont South leagues were renamed and reconfigured to be consistent with school enrollments. Santana is in the Grossmont Valley league with smaller enrollment schools like El Capitan and Mt. Miguel. West Hills is in the Grossmont Hills league with larger schools like Helix and Valhalla.
This year's matchup was not diminished by the recent changes in league configuration. The game took place at Santana's home stadium, which was packed to capacity on both sides of the field. Santana alums who played football for the school were invited to watch the game from the team's sideline.
"As big as it is, it still feels like a small town," said Victor Meier, who watched the game from the sideline. He graduated from Santana in 1993 and appreciated the rivalry in spite of Santee's population growth since he last played.
One of the notable teams from that era was a Santana team that beat West Hills 24-0 in 1992. That team featured a dominant defense that won four straight games by shutout and six overall. Defensive lineman Leon Bender played for that team and went on to play college football at Washington State University. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 1998 draft, but died only a few weeks after the draft due to complications from a seizure.
Parking was difficult for those who didn't plan ahead. If you arrived late to the game, you likely missed some good football as both teams scored on their opening drives. West Hills took a methodical approach with an opening drive that took 10 plays and covered 62 yards in 5:54. The drive ended with Gary Isaacson scoring on a quaterback sneak from one yard out to give the Wolfpack a 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Santana responded with a 95-yard return for a touchdown by Zach Breidt, and before the Wolfpack could savor their scoring drive, the Sultans had tied the game at seven.
"It was the biggest play of my life. We had a whole line of blockers and I went the whole way untouched," said Breidt about his big return.
"The kids really respond to something that big. We tell them all the time that nothing hurts a team worse than they score and get all fired up, then you bring it back. We spend a lot of time on kickoff returns," said Santana head coach Dave Gross.
Santana added to their lead with a 25-yard field goal by Brad Cornish, to make the score 10-7. This drive was a stark contrast to their previous one, taking 16 plays and nearly six minutes.
What also served as a stark contrast was West Hills' inability to match their well executed opening drive. One drive ended with the Wolfpack losing the ball on downs, while another ended with a fumble that was recovered by Santana's Timothy Schultz at West Hills' five-yard line. Santana took full advantage of the turnover, moving 95 yards in 13 plays and scoring on a three-yard run by quarterback Kyle Gasner to give the Sultans a 17-7 lead just before halftime.
In the third quarter, the Wolfpack caught some breaks. Santana was penalized for a block in the back that placed the ball on their own 17-yard line to start the second half. On the next play, the Sultans lost the ball on a fumble and West Hills' defender Steven Armstrong recovered. Four plays later, Andrew Tran scored on a four-yard run, and West Hills trailed by three, down 17-14.
Whatever enthusiasm that Tran's touchdown created for the West Hills sideline quickly vanished on Santana's next drive. Gasner connected with Landon Lozoya on a 61-yard catch and run play that gave back a 10 point lead to Santana, 24-14.
Momentum appeared to shift in Santana's direction. In addition to the big pass play, the following kickoff did not go well for West Hills when kick returner Michael Scales' knee touched the ground as he caught the ball. He was ruled down at his own 12-yard line, giving the Wolfpack a long field to work with.
West Hills offense, however, seemed unfazed by the difficulties the bad field position caused. They took 11 plays, and just under five minutes to pull to within four when Tran scored from one yard out. A pass play from Isaacson to Armstrong for 16 yards and another one from Isaacson to Ben Schuster for 47 yards contributed to the success of the 88-yard drive. Adolfo Lopez missed on the point after attempt, and West Hills was down by 4, 24-20 with 3:37 left in the third quarter.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Santana caught a huge break that would seal West Hills' fate. Evan Gerola was back in punt formation for the Wolfpack and could not handle a bad snap from his center. He was forced to fall on the ball at his own five-yard line. A few plays later, Tyler Weiss punched the ball in from one yard out to give Santana a 31-20 lead and eventual win.
"We were concerned about their run, but as the time went on, the defensive teams took away what [West Hills] did best, forcing them into more passing situations," Gross said about the win.
Santana (1-0) travels to Scripps Ranch to play the Komets of Kearny High School (0-1), which lost their season opener to Castle Park, 28-14.
West Hills (0-1) travels to La Jolla (0-1) to face the Vikings. They suffered a humiliating 38-3 loss in their season opener at home to Mt. Carmel.
Christopher Mohr is a freelance writer in the San Diego area and is an avid Chargers, Padres and
WH - Isaacson 1 run (Lopez kick)
S - Breidt 95 kickoff return (Cornish kick)
S - FG Cornish 22
S - Gasner 3 run (Cornish kick)
WH - Tran 4 run (Lopez kick)
S - Lozoya 61 pass from Gasner (Cornish kick)
WH - Tran 4 run (kick failed)
S - Weiss 1 run (Cornish kick)