Prep Impressions: Week 13
I covered the San Bernardino Aquinas-Riverside Notre Dame CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division semifinal round playoff game on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, for The Press-Enterprise, pe.com & @PEcom_preps and came away thinking it’s the first time I’ve seen a Riverside-based football program get to this point.
Sure, Riverside Poly won its Inland Division semifinal last season and played for the division title (ultimately losing, 36-33, to Redlands East Valley) but I wasn’t there for that. And Riverside Norte Vista beat San Bernardino San Gorgonio in an epic semifinal to reach the 2013 Eastern Division title game, but I wasn’t there for that either. To wit: It was the Bears’ first title game in 30 years, and the Braves’ first appearance ever, if you need a sense of the depravity among RUSD and Alvord Unified football programs until recently.
So plucky (private), little (enrollment approx. 500) Notre Dame comes along, with second-year head coach Derrick Johnson leading the charge, and is back in a championship game for the first time in 38 years.
On Friday night, the Titans were slow to get going but dominated Aquinas in the second half on the way to a 34-6 victory and their first title game try since 1977.
The Titans play disciplined defense and are determined to run the ball. Senior RB Ian Zamudio had just five yards in the first half but busted loose for 156 more and three touchdowns in the second half.
Notre Dame senior QB Niles Harrell wasn’t nearly as in command as I expected. He throws a decent ball but struggles with accuracy. He’s big and strong and has up-side but will be a project for a college coach.
Aquinas sophomore RB Branden Rankins is the best second-year running back we’ve seen this season. He runs over, around and through defenders and will be on all the Inland Area watch lists next season.
POST-GAME QUOTE SHEET:
San Bernardino Aquinas head coach Jordan Brusig:
“We knew were going to have to control the ball and the clock and be close to perfect, and that didn’t happen. We played great on defense in the first half, and the opportunities were there. It’s the same stuff as Week 10. It just wasn’t the defense. Turnovers killed us. We were in the game and if a couple things go differently… We’re physical. All our guys plays both ways. We continue to show that our resiliency is great.”
Riverside Notre Dame head coach Derrick Johnson:
“We talked about it at the beginning of the season. We want to be the first ones to get this thing done. We committed to that. One week at a time, one day at a time, one play at a time. These kids deserve it. They’ve put in the work and now they have a chance at something bigger than any one of then, or us.”