In his first year at Sweetwater, coach Brian Hay has the Red Devils playing for a title.
Sweetwater vs. Monte Vista
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Mesa College
Preview: Monte Vista beat Sweetwater 34-3 on the road in September, but the Red Devils have lost just once since then and enter today with a seven-game winning streak. Both teams run the ball almost exclusively, and neither team completed a pass in the first matchup. Very little separates the two offenses, so this game could be decided with a big play on defense or special teams.
Prediction: Sweetwater 28, Monte Vista 24
Coach: Brian Hay, first year
Players to watch: Wingbacks Antonio Garcia and Angel Reyes carry the ball most in the offense’s double-wing rushing attack. Garcia, a junior, and Reyes, a senior, combined to rush for 2,375 yards and 20 touchdowns. Raven Middleton rushed for 652 yards and four touchdowns, but the junior’s biggest contributions have come as a linebacker, where he has accounted for five sacks and 22 tackles for losses.
Season highlight: It’s strange to call a 52-14 loss at Eastlake a highlight, but Hay said facing a team with the speed and athleticism of Eastlake helped turn the season around. Players became more comfortable with offensive assignments and reading defenses, and the game has slowed down for them. They are undefeated since that early-October loss.
Quotable: “At the time, we had no answer for what they were doing to us,” Hay said of the loss to Monte Vista. “Was it kids making mistakes or the scheme making mistakes? That’s something we’ll have to adjust to.”
Championship past: It has been 29 years since the Red Devils won a San Diego Section championship. They captured their first title in 1972, then won back-to-back titles in 1983 and 1984. That was the last time they appeared in a section championship game.
Little-known fact: While some teams hold a postgame prayer, Sweetwater is led in prayer after every practice, including one this week that asked “to let us not fumble, but be the cause of fumbles.”
Coach: Ron Hamamoto, second year
Players to watch: Jemeil Jackson is the senior leader and plays running back and free safety. He has rushed for more than 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Senior Eric Collins is the bruising goal-line back, while junior Lee Wade and senior Jaqui Morris are always a danger to break long runs.
Season highlight: After opening the season 0-3, the Monarchs won four straight — including the win over Sweetwater and a 46-0 shutout of El Cajon Valley. Hamamoto called that winning streak a huge confidence builder.
Quotable: “It’s always tough to beat a team twice in a year,” Hamamoto said of beating the Red Devils in September. “To get your kids to know that it’s going to be a battle, I definitely think it’s a disadvantage.”
Championship past: The Monarchs captured their first title in 1995 with a 13-12 win over Escondido. They lost to Oceanside in 1999. The last championship appearance came a decade ago in 2003, when Monte Vista beat rival Helix 20-3.
Little-known fact: Linebackers coach Blake Lubic, an assistant at his alma mater since 2005, was a linebacker and running back on the 2001 Monte Vista team that beat Reggie Bush’s Helix team 38-27 to win the Grossmont South League title.