Inland Empire: Colton 17, Rancho Verde 7

MORENO VALLEY -- In the week leading up to Friday night's highly anticipated Colton-Rancho Verde CIF-SS Central Division championship game, Colton coach Rick Bray told his running back, senior star Tyler Ervin, that he was going to have him run the ball 50 times against the Mustangs to keep the talented Rancho Verde offense off the field.

Bray didn't quite get to his goal -- Ervin only had 42 carries for 168 yards -- but the plan worked to perfection, as underdog Colton controlled the pace of the game from start to finish and topped host Rancho Verde, 17-7, to hand the Mustangs their first loss of the season and win the school's first CIF title in 32 years.

"We knew that if we smacked them in the mouth and ran hard on every single play, nothing can stop us," Ervin said afterward. "We are a force to be reckoned with."

A good portion of Ervin's 42 carries appeared to be on a very similar play the Yellowjackets called again and again. Colton quarterback Jordan Mixon didn't delay and got to the line of scrimmage quick, where he would pitch to Ervin -- sometimes left, sometimes right -- a guard or tackle would run out and pull for the 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster, and Ervin would get five or so yards a pop.

"We saw it all coming," said Rancho Verde defensive end/tight end Junior Pomee. "We knew they were going to run it with the same person, same play, over and over again.

"The defense just couldn't stop it."

Mixon wasn't asked to throw the ball very often, but when he was, he was on target. He twice connected with receiver Rodney Hardrick for scoring passes in the second half, including a 79-yard catch-and-run that broke the game open with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

Rancho Verde (13-1) came into the game averaging 48 points per game as the undefeated champions of the Inland Valley League and hadn't scored fewer than 28 points all season.

After a shaky, scoreless first quarter, the Mustangs appeared to get it together a bit and took a 7-3 lead into the halftime break on a touchdown grab by Breon Redman. But quarterback Travis Champion was clearly troubled by consistent pressure from the Colton defensive line in the second half and wasn't able to deliver much of anything of substance. When Champion threw two picks late in the game as the Mustangs tried to put together desperation drives, he was replaced by backup Jordan Jones, who didn't fare much better.

Colton (12-3) didn't even win its league this season, finishing third behind Cajon and San Gorgonio in the San Andreas League, but the Yellowjackets turned it up in CIF postseason play, beating Colony and Palm Springs to start off the run and then sneaking away with a one-point overtime victory over Cajon last week in the semifinals.

Bray, in his first season as head coach after serving as an assistant for 21 years, was elated with his team's performance -- especially against what he considered to be superior competition.

"That team has a bunch of great athletes," Bray said. "We're good athletes."

Rancho Verde played its season in memory of fallen linebacker Emil Smith, who died in a car accident in July. Pomee said he and his teammates were proud to have made it as far as they did.

Said Pomee: "We're just really happy that we played our hearts out for him."