Preview: Sierra Canyon vs. Paraclete

Sierra Canyon football coach Jon Ellinghouse expects a physical game against Paraclete in the CIF Southern Section East Valley Division championship at Antelope Valley College on Saturday night.

Why shouldn’t he?

The last time Sierra Canyon and Paraclete played, one of Ellinghouse’s best offensive players ended up in the hospital with a concussion and Paraclete’s starting quarterback sat out most of the second half with a sprained ankle.

“I’m expecting them to come out with their best game ever,” Paraclete coach Norm Dahlia said. “We’re expecting them to hit us in the mouth.”

Sierra Canyon (13-0) hasn’t lost a game since last year’s East Valley Division championship to Paraclete, a loss that weighs heavily on Ellinghouse and quarterback Tyler Stewart.

Paraclete (11-2) won the East Valley Division title last year and haven’t lost since Nov. 5 to Sierra Canyon, 36-26.

Sierra Canyon running back Xavier Menifield, who leads the team with 1,229 yards and 26 touchdowns, was knocked out of the first game against Paraclete in the first quarter. He only had two carries for three yards and had to be taken to a hospital for having concussion-like symptoms.

He missed the Alpha League finale against Calvary Chapel, but returned for the first round of the playoffs. In three playoff games, Menifield has rushed for 387 yards and scored eight touchdowns.

“They have to deal with Xavier for an entire game,” Ellinghouse said. “He’s a good, solid player.”

Combined with Danny Jordan, who has 860 yards rushing, 135 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, Sierra Canyon has a productive pair of weapons in the backfield.

“Xavier is a force when we have him and Danny Jordan on the field together,” Ellinghouse said.

Paraclete is playing in a CIF championship game for the third time in the past four years. They won the East Valley Division championship last year and the Mid-Valley Division championship in 2008.

Dahlia has won two CIF championships in his six years at Paraclete. The Spirits have a long and proud winning tradition with eight CIF championships.

But Sierra Canyon is the toughest team Paraclete has faced year in and year out for the past two seasons. Sierra Canyon finally broke through with its first win against Paraclete in three tries. The Trailblazers will look to make it two in a row and Dahlia knows his team needs to be prepared.

“I know that they’re good,” Dahlia said. “It was 100 percent what we expected the first time we played and it’s what we expect Saturday night.”

Paraclete and Sierra Canyon are very similar offensively. Paraclete has a pair of talented running backs in Antoyne Hutcherson and Ryan Davis. Davis has 789 yards rushing and leads the team with 14 touchdowns. Hutcherson, a converted defensive back, has 850 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“Hutcherson’s been running the ball well for us,” Dahlia said. “That’s been huge for us. As a team, we’ve been improving on a weekly basis.”

In the game against Sierra Canyon in November, Paraclete quarterback Tyler Calvalho sprained his ankle in the second half and didn’t play in the fourth quarter. He only passed for 70 yards, but Dahlia said even if Carvalho played the whole game, the outcome probably would have been the same.

Both teams are full strenghth for the championship game and both coaches are expecting a hard-hitting, physical game.

“We just want to get this thing on,” Ellinghouse said. “That loss has been motivating us for a year. The time is here.”