Inland Empire: Chaparral vs. Vista Murrieta still has some importance

OK, so it’s not the preeminent game in the Inland Empire this season.

That doesn’t mean Temecula Chaparral and Vista Murrieta won’t be grinding on their mouthpieces when they take the field Thursday night for their Southwestern League opener at Vista Murrieta High.

The last time these teams met was in the Inland Division championship game in December, when Chaparral pulled out a 13-7 victory to avenge a one-sided loss to the Broncos in league play.

The Pumas came into this season ranked as the best team in the Inland Empire by a number of publications, with Vista Murrieta a close second.

However, those roles were short-lived, especially for Chaparral, which lost its first four games by an average of 19 points.

During the same stretch, Vista Murrieta allowed 27 points to Etiwanda, squeaked by Corona Santiago and was then overrun by visiting Encino Crespi, 45-31.

What had been the featured match-up in the Inland Empire just a month ago was now just another league rivalry.

Prime Ticket didn’t pull the plug on its plans to televise the game, however, and the road in and out of Vista Murrieta High will still likely resemble the 91 Freeway during rush hour.

Yes, there are certainly some tantalizing story lines to be told. Most noteworthy is the competitive history of the rivalry.

In five of their last six meetings, the game wasn’t decided until the final drive. In fact, last season’s nail-biting championship game will have a direct impact on Thursday’s meeting, as Chaparral star receiver Antoine Arnold has been suspended for the rematch because of his on-field behavior immediately following the victory.

Plenty of talent will still line up for both teams.

Vista Murrieta quarterback Derrick Brown has committed to Utah, running back Jovonte Slater is headed to USC on a track and field scholarship, defensive end Jon Sanchez has pledged to San Diego State and sophomore safety Su’a Cravens has already been offered scholarships from UCLA and Hawaii.

For the Pumas, two-way star Darius Guillory has also committed to San Diego State, and junior linebacker Curtis Dozier is emerging as one of the region’s top defenders in the class of 2012.

This might just be a pretty good game after all.

Check back following the game for a re-cap and video highlights.