Rancho Cucamonga didn’t experience many growing pains after moving up to the SS-Inland Division last season. Two years after winning a Central Division title, the Cougars reached the semifinals of the Inland Empire’s most competitive playoff bracket, losing to Vista Murrieta on a goal-line stand in double overtime.
With six first-team all-Baseline League players returning for their senior year, Rancho Cucamonga is optimistic it can better last season’s finish.
Here’s a closer look at the Cougars.
Team: Rancho Cucamonga.
Coach: Nick Baiz, sixth season.
2010 Record: 11-2. Lost to Vista Murrieta in double overtime of an Inland Division semifinal.
Returning starters: 14 total. Eight on offense, six on defense.
Key players on offense: QB Dimitri Morales, WR J.T. Huggins, OL Cameron Turner, OL Brandon Carter, TE Metuisela Unga.
Key players on defense: LB Steven Mujica, DL Chase Morris, DB Toure Boyd, DB Tahaan Goodman.
Difference maker: J.T. Huggins is one of those offensive players who requires a GPS just to keep track of him. He might be at wide receiver on one play, in the slot the next and then lined up at fullback in a short-yardage situation. Oh yeah, and he returns punts and holds for the place kicker. The Cougars should be able to churn out drives with their huge, battle-tested offensive line, but Huggins gives them that much-needed big-play ability, which is necessary to prevent opposing defenses from stacking the box.
Newcomers: WR Jermel Walker, DB Chris Hawkins.
Not to be missed: Oct. 28, vs. Etiwanda at Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos High. Etiwanda appears to have surpassed Upland as the team for Rancho Cucamonga to beat in order to secure a second consecutive Baseline League title. Both the Cougars and Etiwanda will have played Upland by the time they meet in this game, so the pecking order should be settled when the final whistle blows.
Coach’s comment: “Our offense should be able to possess the ball and move the ball down the field,” coach Nick Baiz said. “If we take care of the ball and play solid defense, we should be in most games.”
Final analysis: Due to injuries, the Cougars used seven offensive linemen last season and five are back, including two three-year starters, carrying an average weight of 295 pounds. Throw in a returning quarterback and big-play receiver in Huggins, and Rancho Cucamonga enters the season as second-best team in the Inland Empire behind Corona Centennial. If the Cougars can stay healthy and build momentum as the season unfolds, they could realistically end up as the top team in the I.E. this season.