As we take the time to exhale in between the first and second rounds of the Southern Section football playoffs, let’s recognize a few of the award winners from Friday night’s opening rounds.
Best ending: On the verge of becoming the biggest upset victim of the first round, Rancho Cucamonga turned in the most improbable finish. Trailing by five points against Chino Hills in the Inland Division opener with just 6.6 seconds on the clock and 38 yards from the end zone, Marcus Bratton leaped in the air and hauled in a desperation touchdown pass to lift the Cougars to a 39-38 victory. Rancho Cucamonga drove 70 yards in the final 26 seconds. The Cougars survive to meet fourth-seeded Redlands East Valley in the second round Friday at 7 p.m. at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands.
Best individual performance: On a night when Corona Centennial’s defense was knocked on its heels, running back Romello Goodman came to the rescue, rushing for a career-high 325 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-35 victory against visiting Redlands. The top-seeded Huskies were clinging to a seven-point lead entering the final quarter of the Inland Division first-round game, but Goodman gave them some breathing room with his fifth touchdown of the game. Centennial will host Chaparral in the second round, a team that upset the Huskies two years ago on its way to winning the Inland Division championship.
Most surprising performance: Moreno Valley wasn’t expected to put up much of a fight against Cajon. After all, the Cowboys were the San Andreas League co-champions and were ranked No. 2 in the Central Division as recently as Week 7. Someone obviously forgot to pass that information along to the Vikings. Moreno Valley unleashed a heavy dose of senior running back Imeria Talia and never gave Cajon a chance in the 43-16 victory. Talia finished with 270 yards rushing in 40 carries and scored two touchdowns. He also helped keep the ball out of the hands of Cajon’s playmakers, limiting their first-half time of possession to 4 minutes 47 seconds while the Vikings built a 28-8 lead. Moreno Valley will host fourth-seeded Colony at 7 p.m. in Friday's second round.
Most impressive victory: Cajon got on the map with an impressive season-opening victory against Chaparral. The Pumas were breaking in a new coaching staff and they seemed a bit overwhelmed by Cajon’s gameplan. But they're looking more like the team expected to challenge for the Inland Division title this season after whacking Los Osos, 38-14, in the opening round, which just so happened to be the same score that Rancho Cucamonga beat Los Osos the week before. Chaparral’s best players are on the defensive side of the ball and that’s where the Pumas are winning games, forcing 36 turnovers this season.
Gutsiest performance: Paloma Valley had plenty of reasons to wait until next year. The Wildcats lost their returning starting quarterback, senior Logan Tutwiler, to a season-ending foot injury before the start of Sunbelt League play, then had to forfeit four nonleague game for using an ineligible player. Paloma Valley needed a victory against defending Eastern Division champion Elsinore in the league finale just to make the playoffs, but found a way to win, 21-20. For their efforts, the Wildcats were matched against top-seeded Summit in the opening round but again didn’t roll over, holding a three-point lead in the third quarter before eventually losing, 26-18.
Biggest statement: Maybe it’s because Charter Oak isn’t technically in the Inland Empire, but the Sierra League champions served notice they’re a team to be reckoned with in the Inland Division. The Chargers put a beating on Corona Santiago like no other team this season -- and that includes Centennial -- running away with a 63-21 victory. Charter Oak has an impressive three-pronged attack starting with 3,000-yard passer Travis Santiago (26 touchdowns, four interceptions). The other two weapons are 1,400-yard rusher Kurt Scoby (19 touchdowns) and big-play artist Aarens Vaughns (1,047 yards receiving, four interceptions). Charter Oak will get a chance to flex its muscle Friday when it travels to second-seeded Upland, a team with similar offensive strengths.