What advantage? Of the five semifinal games involving Orange County teams Friday, three were won by the visiting team. Mater Dei won at St. Bonaventure of Ventura, Villa Park won at Tustin, and Corona del Mar won at Irvine High, which is Woodbridge's field.
Players of the year
We select an offensive and a defensive player of the year. Selecting offensive player of the year is easier than picking defensive player of the year, because of the abundance of statistical evidence available for offensive players. El Toro quarterback Conner Manning's record-setting year makes him a viable candidate for offensive player of the year. We have a few outstanding two-way players, like Mater Dei's Thomas Duarte and Mission Viejo's Max Redfield, who could be either offensive or defensive players of the year. Then there are defensive standouts like Edison's Derek Baljeu, who has 10 sacks. More names will come forward as research continues.
Coach of the year
Always a challenging category, we have some excellent candidates for this one. Alphabetically, one could make a strong case for all of the coaches who have their teams in CIF championship games – Dusan Ancich of Villa Park, Josh Meyer of Corona del Mar, Willy Puga of Garden Grove, Bruce Rollinson of Mater Dei and Dave White of Edison. Doug Case of Foothill and Mike Churchill of Laguna Beach led their teams to the semifinals, and Mike Marrujo guided a turn-around year at Valencia. If the meeting was held today to select the All-Orange County team and the players and coaches of the year, this coach of the year ballot would have the candidates in this order: 1. Rollinson, 2. Puga, 3. Ancich.
It kind of looked like one of those comets that come and go quickly, when Garden Grove advanced to the 2009 Southern Division championship game in which the Argos lost to La Mirada. But Grove has been a consistent program overall these past five seasons. The Argos were 9-2 overall in 2008, won the Southern Division title in '10, fell back some last year at 4-7 overall but still qualified for the playoffs, and this year they are 11-2 and in the Southern Division final. The team's Garden Grove League record over that five-year period is 22-3.
Maybe it helped
All five of Corona del Mar's nonleague games were against teams from higher divisions. The Sea Kings defeated Western and Cypress of the Southwest Division, and lost to Capistrano Valley and Laguna Hills from that division (the loss to Laguna Hills became a forfeit victory) and to the Southwest's Newport Harbor in the annual "Battle of the Bay." No matter the sport, a team gets better by playing better competition.
Poly-Mater Dei history
Yes, they have some. Long Beach Poly and Mater Dei played each other in three consecutive CIF-Southern Section championship football games, from 1997-99. Poly won the first matchup, in 1997 with a 28-25 victory at the Coliseum when the Jackrabbits celebrated by popping all of Mater Dei's on-field decorative red-and-white balloons. Given Mater Dei's mania for balloons, that's quite an undertaking. In 1998, Mater Dei beat Poly at Angel Stadium, then called Edison Field, 33-26. The rubber match had no bounce. The teams tied in a '99 final at Angel/Edison, 21-21. With overtime now part of CIF-SS football championships, the real rubber match is coming this Saturday at Angel Stadium.