"We are not big. We are not fast. We are not strong. We have the hearts the size of Texas," Coach Greg Ireland said earlier about his Murrieta Valley Nighthawk football team. "They have been resilient all year."
Murrieta Valley showed just how resilient they are last week to advance to round two of the CIF Southern Section Ford Championships, Presented by Farmers, Football Playoffs.
"We have also broken into the top 25 teams in the state," said the coach.
This week the Nighthawks face one of Southern California’s perennial football powerhouses, the Huskies from Corona Centennial. Coach Matt Logan’s team is 10-1 and is looking to re-claim the CIF Inland Division crown that was lost to Vista Murrieta last year.
“Centennial is definitely one of the finest teams in the state of California. It should be a great challenge for us," Ireland said.
Centennial is a formidable football machine. The Huskies average 51 points per game. They possess a very balanced offensive attack, averaging 257 yards in the air and 269 yards on the ground per contest.
The Huskies are coming off successive wins of 47-21 over Los Osos and a 70-28 pounding of Santiago in the regular season finale.
Centennial is led by junior quarterback Robert Webber who has thrown for 2,356 yards and 24 touchdowns. His key targets are Chase Krivashei, D'Vonte McKneely, Barry Ware and Ryan Pascarella, who combined for 144 catches and 21 of Webber’s TD tosses.
On the ground, Centennial's Austin Renken and Tre Watson are the workhorses. Renken ran for 963 yards and 15 TDs while Watson led the Huskies with 1,011 yards rushed and 19 TDs. All of this courtesy of one of the best offensive lines in Southern California led by senior Cameron Hunt.
The Huskie Defense is big, quick and unrelenting. They have held opponents to 23 points per game this season. Centennial’s defensive leaders are Xavier Hughes, Brandon Garcia and Garrett Hughes. The Huskies are tough.
Murrieta Valley knocked off Eisenhower 35-27 in round one of the CIF Playoffs. Led by senior quarterback Andrew Blake, the Nighthawk offense has found its groove and is ready to face any Huskie challenge.
Blake’s favorite receivers are Hector Bautista, Aaron Paisley, Alex Montion and Cole Gray. They will be bolstered by the return of senior wide receiver Brandon Iacobellis.
Running back Jacob Augustin is the heart and soul of the Nighthawk running game. His line, “The Filthy Five” did an excellent job creating holes in the Eagle defense last week and must be at the top of their game when they face Centennial.
Senior Kyle Underwood and juniors Jerry Boggs, Grant Hatch, Christian Vinsky, and Jack James make up the Nighthawk “Filthy Five." Running backs Jayvy Ragudo and Michael Robles also take advantage of the holes they create.
Defense will be a key Friday night. Can the Nighthawks stop the Huskie scoring juggernaut? Murrieta Valley’s linemen Michael Payne, Jordon Silva, Tony Iannuzzi, Josh Van Hulzen and Omar Mohamed anchor the Nighthawk defense.
Linebackers Mike Almodovar, Davis Day and Jacob Macias combine with arrows De’Sean Bullock and Kody Thornburg to create a swarming defense that has been successfully punishing offenses all season.
The Nighthawk secondary is led by senior safety Terin Solomon, whose devastating tackles thunder throughout the stadium. Defensive backs Weston Brown, Lafayette Waters, Brett Gates and Damon Nolan have been outstanding against the pass and proved they could shut down run against Eisenhower.
Nolan is also the Nighthawk kick off and return specialist who never fails to dazzle and excite the Nighthawk Nation every Friday night. With the game on the line last week, Nolan took a fourth quarter kick-off and raced 95 yards past the stunned Eisenhower defense and into end zone. Nighthawks win 35-27.
“Expect a fast paced game…” Ireland said.
So get there early and don’t miss any of the action Friday night. Game time is at 7 p.m. at Murrieta Valley Nighthawk Stadium. Come out and support the Nighthawks in round two of the CIF Southern Section Inland Division Playoffs. See you there!