Inland Empire: Rancho Verde 28, Arlington 16

RIVERSIDE — When the Moreno Valley Rancho Verde and Riverside Arlington football teams met Friday night, there were plenty of reasons to leave it all on the field.

Not only was there a Inland Valley League title at stake, but Arlington was playing without coach Pat McCarthy, who was recuperating in the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest before practice earlier in the week.

Rancho Verde was trying to wrap up an undefeated regular season in honor of Emil Smith, the Boise State-bound senior-to-be who was killed in a car accident over the summer.

In the end, Rancho Verde had a little too much firepower and the Mustangs held on for a 28-16 victory at Riverside Ramona High.

“These guys are fighters,” said Eric Seckinger, who was filling info McCarthy. “They were feeding off coach Mac.”

The Lions (8-2, 6-1) rallied from deficits of 14-0 and 21-6 to cut the Rancho Verde’s lead to 21-16 on a 35-yard field goal with 2 minutes 38 seconds remaining.

But the ensuing onside kick didn’t work as well as planned. The ball was dribbled up the middle but Rancho Verde tight end Junior Pomee scooped it up and ran 52 yards for a touchdown, putting Arlington back down two scores.

“We were real fortunate to win that game,” said Rancho Verde coach Pete Duffy.

The Mustangs, the top-ranked team in the Central Division, can now look forward to beginning the playoffs as the top-seeded team in the division after the playoff brackets are released Sunday.

Rancho Verde (10-0, 7-0) didn’t have a very difficult nonleague schedule, and Arlington was the only team in the eight-team Inland Valley League that had a legitimate chance to beat the Mustangs, but Duffy said his team will be ready for the postseason.

“It’s very difficult when you play a seven-game league schedule like that to try to relate back to Week 1 or Week 2,” he said. “ ‘Hey guys, remember 10 weeks ago how hard you had to play?’ We can’t control what league we’re in, we just go and do what we have to do.”