When Mission Viejo takes the field Friday against visiting Redlands East Valley, it will be the third week in a row the Diablos have played without their best player, linebacker Tre Madden.
“It seems like the 10th week,” Coach Bob Johnson said. “It's day-by-day, week-by-week. It's a foot injury – they take a while.”
Ranked No. 3 by ESPNLA, the way Mission Viejo (5-0) is playing, Madden's teammates might still be playing 10 weeks from now. Without question, Mission -- along with Servite -- has separated itself from the pack in Orange County and is one of the handful of really proven outstanding teams in the Southland.
Junior LB Wes Hartmann has stepped in for Madden on defense and is getting valuable playing time that will make him a better player this year and next. That's going to make Mission even tougher in the playoffs when Madden returns.
With a capable passing QB in Alex Bridgford (7 TDs, 1 int.) and running backs Dallas Kessman (120 yards/game) and Jahleel Pinner (92 yards/game), the Diablos aren't hurting on offense -- they're averaging 45 points while giving up 16. Madden was the QB in the wildcat formation, and had carried eight times for 189 yards -- a 23.6 average -- before he was hurt. Johnson understandably thinks the USC commit is the best player in Orange County.
“When guys step up, that's a good thing,” Johnson said. “We've played a good schedule, ranked as one of the hardest schedules at the beginning of the year. We're down some guys. Usually we're injury free.”
In addition to Madden, defensive lineman Riley Detrick (ankle) will miss the game against REV (3-1). He was hurt in the first quarter of last week's 42-21 victory over Carson.
It's not surprising that Mission is undefeated, even against its schedule. What has been most impressive has been that it's beating everyone badly. Makes no difference if you're Corona – which scored a bunch of garbage points against the second string in a 56-34 loss – or Loyola (42-7) or Long Beach Poly (37-7).
Even Bothell (Wash.), a state semifinalist last season, went down in the season opener in Seattle, 49-13. Mission's average margin of victory is 28 points.
“Those are big scores – that might be a little surprising,” said Johnson, who thinks this group has what it takes to win the Pac-5 title. It lost to Servite in last year's semifinals, 19-18, when a two-point conversion failed in the final minute.
“I like this team a lot. It's young, only three guys back on each side of the ball – that's a young team – but I like the back-to-back classes. I like their makeup and how they approach things. I like them as individuals. I like their chemistry.”
Mission is ranked No. 1 in the Pac-5 Division in the CIF-Southern Section poll, while REV is ranked sixth in the Inland Division. Johnson believes REV will be his team's toughest opponent to date, though he didn't think that at the beginning of the season – not with Poly and Carson on the schedule.
“This will be our biggest test,” he said. “They've come down two years in a row and beat Orange Lutheran, they beat Clovis East, they're very physical. . . . They're well-coached.”
Most teams can't match Mission's physical play. REV's willingness to mix it up could determine its fortune. Even though the young team is a longshot to win, it will certainly benefit from playing the Diablos, who will expose any weaknesses not yet uncovered – and give REV a chance to fix them bef0re playing rival Redlands in the Citrus Belt League opener the following week.
"I knew they were playing people, and nobody was playing us, so I called (coach Kurt Bruich),” said Johnson, who knew Bruich's dad, Inland Empire legend Dick Bruich. “He said no problem.”
REV's strength this season has been its defense, and that' going to be a benefit against Mission. The Wildcats are allowing just 8.2 points per game. If they can do that against Mission, they have a chance. But the REV offense has scored only 13 points the last two weeks, a 10-6 victory over Lutheran and most recently a 14-3 loss to Chino Hills. The Wildcats can't afford such meager output against Mission – but they may not have a choice.