The 2008 Olympic League Champions are at home this week, as they host the Rosemead Panthers in the final round of the 2008 CIF Southern Section Football Championships. The two teams are set to square off in the Mid-Valley Division title game this Saturday, December 13th. Pete Knight High School in Palmdale, CA will host the game, with kickoff set for 7:00pm.
Paraclete returns to the divisional championship game for the first time since 2001. The Spirits already have two titles in this decade, from the 2000 and 2001 seasons. What makes it even more impressive is that the two championship years in this decade were part of a five-title run from 1997 to 2001. While this is familiar territory for the school, this is the first time they’ve reached the finals under third year head coach Norm Dahlia.
The road to get to the finals has been long but fruitful for the Spirits. After starting the season off 0-3, the team really came together and started to gel. By week four, the squad starting hitting on all cylinders and hasn’t looked back. They finished out non-league competition in dominating fashion en route to a 3-3 record. Taking that momentum into Olympic League play, PHS handled the opposition with no real difficulties. The 2008 crew continued their unbeaten streak going 4-0 and captured the school’s 14th league title.
Paraclete entered the playoffs this season for the third straight year under coach Dahlia. With early exits hanging in the balance, both players and staff vowed to make this year different. In the opening round, they handled San Marino with ease, earning a big 42-14 win. The Spirits came back in the second round to face a much larger and balanced Northview team. In their best game to date, they shutdown a fierce Viking squad for a 14-0 win. Last week in the semifinals, the squad met a surging Temple City team. After getting off to a slow start on offense, the team quickly rallied around the defense. And before long, the Spirits got the spark they needed as they wore down the Rams in a thrilling 27-6 win.
As they turn to this week, Paraclete will have to continue to do the things that have made them so successful over the last 11 weeks. The stakes are absolutely at the highest point they’ve ever been, but the game itself remains the same.
Defensively, the team will continue to look to their front seven to wreck havoc on the opposition. Defensive end Branden Owen leads the Spirits quick and disruptive defensive line. With 96 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, and eight sacks, the junior captain will lead the young group that also features fellow juniors John Pratt and Justin Vargas, and sophomore Lavonte Barnett. Both Pratt and Vargas have worked well clogging up the middle and making it hard for opposing rushers. The junior tackles have combined for 142 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, and 8.5 sacks. They also share the team lead with three fumble recoveries apiece. After stepping into a new position (during week 3) at the other end, Barnett has progressively got better week after week. His combined speed and size has made him pretty hard to handle, as he leads all down linemen with six pass break-ups to go along with one interception, and eight tackles for a loss.
The Spirits get even tougher in the middle, with linebackers Kyle Swanson, Todd Davis, and Jonathan Tovar. Utilizing his speed, vision, and overall tenacity, Swanson’s 153 total tackles leads the team. Davis is right behind him with 148 tackles, but the junior leads the team with 13 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss. Tovar joined the varsity squad after an all-star regular season with the junior varsity team. Patrolling the weak side, the sophomore has made an immediate impact and has remained one of the team’s top tacklers over the last three weeks.
Senior Jonny Torsney pilots Paraclete’s fleet-footed secondary. In addition to leading the team with four interceptions, the captain also leads all defensive backs with 84 tackles. Kyland Warren, Cole Kaz, and Andrew DeLaRosa make up the rest of the Spirits downfield unit. Warren is right behind Torsney with 67 total tackles and three interceptions, but leads the team with seven pass break-ups. Working the sidelines, Kaz and DeLaRosa have been all over opposing receivers. Together, the foursome has pestered and stopped some formidable passing teams this year.
Offensively, the Spirits are led by a strong rushing attack. Running back Brandon Buteyn leads the team with 2059 yards and 17 touchdowns on 222 carries. The senior has 12 triple digit efforts and has eclipsed the 200-yard mark in three of those contests. Behind Buteyn is Paraclete’s “ground pounder,” Dante Donato. The senior has added 810 yards and seven touchdowns on 131 carries. Both make up a very potent backfield, especially when you add-in the likes of quarterback Robbie Thompson. Just shy of 200 yards, the senior ringleader’s numbers are really a misnomer. Having returned two weeks ago from injury, Thompson has sparked the offense with his ability to break big runs.
Through the air, the team is averaging 87 yards a game. In Thompson’s absence, Gabe Martinez led the way going undefeated as a starter in five straight. During that span, the junior threw for 558 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, while going 40 for 73 (55%) passing. Thompson is right behind him, as he’s thrown for 542 yards, three touchdowns, and four interceptions on 44 of 86 (51%) passing.
Paraclete’s receiving core of Swanson, Buteyn, DeLaRosa, and Matt Cordova are full of talent. Swanson leads the team with 385 yards and three touchdowns on 16 receptions. Cordova follows Swanson with 215 yards and two touchdowns on 17 catches. Buteyn has also has three touchdowns coming out of the backfield, while DeLaRosa is tied with Cordova for the team lead in receptions.
Rosemead returns to the CIF divisional title game for the first time in 26 years. It’s been quite the layoff since 1982, but Panthers head coach Matt Koffler has his team primed and ready to go for the challenge.
Overall, they’ve had a pretty steady season. In non-league competition, they opened the season with convincing back-to-back wins against Covina and Monrovia. Though, they went on to lose two of their next three games. In week 5, Rosemead opened up play in the Mission Valley League with a 3-2 record. From there, they rolled up five consecutive wins to take the league title.
Even after closing out the regular season a solid 8-2 overall, they failed to earn a top ranking heading into playoffs. Regardless, the Panthers seem to have taken the oversight personal, as they’ve made quite the statement in the postseason. In the opening round, they dominated Olympic League foe Valley Christian quickly, winning 45-14. During the second round, Rosemead literally hammered the Mid-Valley Division’s early favorite San Dimas, 59-22. Last week in the semifinals, they patched together another strong performance to beat Monrovia 16-6.
The Panthers offense starts and stops with running back Tra Sumler. The senior has had an all-star year, rushing for a Mid-Valley Division best 2315 yards and 31 touchdowns on 269 carries. Averaging 192 yards a game, Sumler has rushed for triple digits in 10 contests, while breaking the 200-yard barrier for the past four weeks.
Regardless of the fact that Rosemead prefers to run, you can’t overlook senior gunslinger Angel Alejandre. The Panthers quarterback has spearheaded quite a campaign of his own. Throughout the season, Alejandre has thrown for 2138 yards, 16 touchdowns, and three interceptions, while going 141 for 219 (64%) passing. He’s does a great job distributing the ball, as receivers Raul Lira, Bobby Navarro, Luis Diaz, Alex Chang, and Cesar Chavez all have over 300 yards. While the five have shared the wealth, Navarro has the most grabs (31). Diaz leads all receivers with five touchdowns, while Lira boasts an average of 30 yards per catch.
While the Panthers offense gets has got a lot of the praise this year, their defense is probably one of the most underrated bunches in the Mid-Valley Division. They’ve held their opponents to an average of 14.8 points per game. The strength of Rosemead’s defense comes from a strong linebacking crew in Gilbert De La Rosa, Joey Diaz, and Chavez. De La Rosa leads the team with 115 total tackles, while Diaz leads the bunch with 12 sacks. Chavez ranks fourth on the team in total tackles, but is tied for the teams lead in interceptions with two.
The secondary is made up Sumler, Navarro, Chang and Matthew Fregoso. Sumler’s 95 total tackles are second to De La Rosa, but he leads the team with 13 sacks. Chang is also tied for the teams lead in interceptions with two, while Fregoso leads the team with five fumble recoveries. Navarro ranks in the top half in total tackles and has collected a total of four turnovers.