Helix quarterback Carson Baker scrambles down the sideline on a QB keeper.
The Mission Hills and Helix football teams were lined up back-to-back on San Diego State’s practice field last summer during a 7-on-7 passing league tournament, preparing to play Arizona schools in the semifinals.
“We’d turn around and look at each other,” said Mission Hills’ dynamic wide receiver Chris Olave.
The desert rats ruined the anticipated passing league championship matchup, beating the Grizzlies and Highlanders. But come 7 p.m. Saturday at Southwestern College, 123 days after football’s first practices, Mission Hills (12-0) and Helix (11-1) will finally share the field in the San Diego Section Open Division title game.
“This,” said San Marcos head coach Jason Texler, whose Knights lost to both teams, “is what high school football fans want to see.”
It’s No. 1 (Mission Hills) vs. No. 2 (Helix). It’s arguably the section’s two best quarterbacks, the Grizzlies’ Utah-bound Jack Tuttle vs. Helix’s UC Davis-commit Carson Baker, flinging spirals into the night. It’s Mission Hills’ Olave sprinting into the secondary against Helix’s Division I cornerbacks, Rashad Scott and Isaac Taylor-Stuart.
Combined, it’s nearly 20 players who will earn scholarships ranging from Division II to Power Five conferences playing in the most anticipated high school football game of the season. Even adults who cut hair longed for Mission Hills vs. Helix.
Tuttle and Olave get their locks trimmed by the same Oceanside barber, a man who goes by “JP The Barber.” According to Tuttle, after the Open Division lineup was set, JP tweeted something along the lines of “T-H-E matchup.”
A look at what makes the game so enticing.
Since John Carroll stepped down at Oceanside, Helix, unquestionably, is the most dominant football program in the section. The Scotties will be playing in their fourth straight Open Division championship game.
Mission Hills, which played its first varsity season in 2004, is playing in its fifth championship game in 11 years. The Grizzlies’ lone title came in 2013 in the Open Division.
All-time, Helix owns eight section titles.
Translation: neither team requires directions to Southwestern College.
Helix opened the season No. 1, suffered a 23-6 loss to Lancaster Paraclete on Sept. 2 when temperatures pressed triple digits and was replaced atop the local Top 10 poll by Mission Hills, which has refused to budge.
“All of a sudden we haven’t been given any respect,” said Helix coach Robbie Owens. “The end of the day, it put a chip on our shoulders.”
Because of the perceived slight, Owens wanted Mission Hills. “I’m all about playing the best,” he said.
Feelings are mutual.
Said Olave, “You could say we wanted Helix.”
Tuttle stands 6-feet-4 and weighs 205 pounds. Baker goes 6-3, 190. Tuttle’s stats read like something out of a video game: 3,171 yards passing, 41 TDs against 4 interceptions. Baker’s numbers aren’t as prolific (2,166 yards, 31 TDs, 3 picks), mainly because he often watched from the sideline in the second half as Helix drilled inferior competition.
Both can buy time scrambling or tuck the ball and gobble up yards on the ground. Baker uncorked a 66-yard run last week vs. San Marcos.
The biggest difference between the pair is Tuttle’s bazooka right arm. Baker, a starter on Helix’s basketball team that advanced to the 2017 state championships, is blessed with intangibles.
“He’s a quarterback,” said Helix assistant Chris Thompson. “He looks like a quarterback. He’s got a quarterback name. He’s a winner.”
The Olave factor
It’s the matchup within the matchup. Maybe no player will impact the game more than Olave, who caught 82 passes this season for 1,657 yards and 22 TDs and will be returning kicks.
“When he gets his hands on the ball, that’s when lightning strikes,” said Thompson.
Scott has committed to San Diego State. Taylor-Stuart is one of the most highly recruited players in the San Diego Section, ever. But coaches who know the game say that Scott is the more complete, steady player and that Taylor-Stuart can be beat.
Of the challenge, Scott said, “I have nothing but excitement. I wouldn’t say fear but definitely excitement.”
The cliché is that success breeds success. In high school, it also breeds transfers showing up at your doorstep.
Olave transferred from Eastlake.
Grizzlies linebacker Chris Calhoun transferred from Cathedral Catholic.
Baker transferred from Valhalla.
Taylor-Stuart transferred from St. Augustine.
Transfers are no longer a surprise in prep sports — and certainly not exclusive to football.
The little man
It happens often on sport’s biggest stage. Newspaper space, sound bites, klieg lights shine on the stars and then the game is decided by a player with a more modest profile.
Enter Helix sophomore running back Elelyon Noa. At 5-feet-8, 175 pounds, he doesn’t look imposing. But built low to the ground, he’s blessed with remarkable balance, pinballing off would-be tacklers.
He gashed San Marcos for 302 yards last week.
College recruiters have filed onto the Mission Hills and Helix campuses this week. Like fans, they, too, are anticipating the game. As one college assistant said, “This is one-stop shopping.”
Norcross is a freelance writer.