As the regular season winds down to the last couple of weeks, reality begins to set in for a lot of teams. Some can see the finish line in the race to a league title, while others are just hoping to hang on to that last automatic playoff spot. Here are the games that have the most meaning in the I.E. this week.
(Inland Empire rankings included)
Heritage (7-1, 3-0) at Elsinore (7-1, 3-0), Friday (7 p.m.) – Heritage beat Elsinore for the Sunbelt League title last season, 40-19, but it was Elsinore that went on to win the Eastern Division title, the program's first Southern Section championship in 83 years. Elsinore relies heavily on its run game and is loaded with players who occupied key roles in the latest postseason run. Tight end/linebacker Nolan Peralta was the league's defensive MVP last season and running backs/defensive backs Allan Stubbs and Daniel Rodriguez have combined for 2,067 rushing yards. Heritage has its own 1,000-yard rusher in junior Jamal Morrow, and one of the area's most punishing two-way players in fullback/linebacker Tony Hifo.
Calpreps.com computerized projection: Heritage 27, Elsinore 26
ESPNLA: Elsinore 24, Heritage 21
Murrieta Valley (7-1, 3-0) at No. 3 Vista Murrieta (3-5, 3-0), Friday (7 p.m.) – Though this rivalry is just a few years old, it has already produced some memorable upsets on both sides. In just its second season in the Southwestern League, Vista Murrieta beat the Nighthawks in 2005 to deny them the league title. Three years later, Murrieta Valley returned the favor with a 10-3 upset, its only victory against the Broncos in six meetings. The Nighthawks will need a huge game from quarterback Andrew Blake. He delivered last week, throwing for 402 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-6 victory against Murrieta Mesa. Of course, Vista Murrieta is no Murrieta Mesa and Su'a Cravens isn't your typical team MVP. Cravens is a junior strong safety and running back who's a game changer for the Broncos on both sides of the ball, and Oregon-bound defensive end Jeremy Castro holds down the line.
Calpreps.com: Vista Murrieta 34, Murrieta Valley 7
ESPNLA: Vista Murrieta 35, Murrieta Valley 20
Los Osos (6-2, 3-0) at No. 2 Upland (8-0, 3-0), Friday (7 p.m.) – Los Osos is the last hurdle for Upland in its bid to win win the Baseline League title outright and secure a top four seeding for the postseason. Don't expect the Grizzlies to roll over and play dead, however. They might be one of the most underrated teams in the I.E.. Los Osos beat Etiwanda by seven points two weeks ago, the same margin that Upland defeated Etiwanda and better than Vista Murrieta, Rancho Cucamonga and Norco. Look for some good battles in the trenches between Los Osos offensive tackle Dylan La Frenz, who committed to Arizona State last week, and Upland defensive lineman Christian Powell, who is scheduled to take an official recruiting trip to Nebraska this weekend.
Calpreps.com: Upland 38, Los Osos 14
ESPNLA: Upland 28, Los Osos 21
Palm Springs (8-0, 3-0) at La Quinta (5-3, 3-0), Friday (7 p.m.) – This annual showdown in the desert lost some of its luster when La Quinta started the season 0-3, but the Blackhawks have been rolling every since rallying from a 34-0 halftime deficit in Week 5 to beat Ridgecrest Burroughs, 41-34. They won't get away with playing just one half against Palm Springs, ranked No. 2 in the SS-Central Division. Nick King is having a phenomenal senior year for the Indians, leading them in scoring, receiving and interceptions and second in rushing. Palm Springs has yet to play a team of La Quinta's caliber this season. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, tested themselves earlier this season against Orange County powerhouse Mission Viejo.
Calpreps.com: Palm Springs 42, La Quinta 21
ESPNLA: Palm Springs 38, La Quinta 28
3 more to C
No. 8 Citrus Hill (8-0, 3-0) at West Valley (4-4, 3-0), Friday (7 p.m.)
A.B. Miller (5-3, 2-1) at Yucaipa (8-0, 3-0), Friday (7 p.m.)
Silverado (3-5, 2-0) at Ridgecrest Burroughs (4-4, 2-0), Friday (7 p.m.)
Last week’s picks: