Bishop faces a mountain of a challenge in Sierra Canyon

They’re big, skilled, athletic, experienced and undefeated.

The top-ranked Sierra Canyon Trailblazers have it all going for them as they seek the CIF East Valley Division football title.

Standing in their way is a talented, tough, skilled, determined and once-beaten Bishop Diego squad.

The fourth-seeded Cardinals (11-1) get another shot at Sierra Canyon (12-0) on Friday, this time in the East Valley Division semifinals at Granada Hills High. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

The teams met last year in the first round and the Trailblazers romped to a 48-17 win. They would advance to the championship game, where they were upset by Alpha League rival Paraclete.

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[poll id=”63″]Paraclete, which finished second behind Sierra Canyon in league play this year, is in the other semifinal against Rim of the World.

Bishop Diego coach Tom Crawford noticed a marked improvement between this year’s Sierra Canyon team and the one they played last year.

“They have a lot of talented players and, from (watching) film, you can see that they’ve matured from last year — particularly in their line play, where they are larger, more physical and more fundamentally sound than they were before,” Crawford said.

But the Cardinals are battle tested and have shown they can go toe-to-toe with bigger, physical teams. They did it against Santa Ynez (in a last-second loss) in the season opener and against Twentynine Palms in last Friday’s quarterfinal 21-14 win on the road

What makes Sierra Canyon a different animal is its big-play capability. The Trailblazers have a Division 1 recruit at quarterback and wide receiver.

“What makes them tick offensively is their ability to both run and pass with big playmakers in both those facets of the game,” Crawford said. “You can’t simply say we’ll take away the big play through the air, etcetera, and force the run because of their balance. You ignore one aspect of their game and they can score in the blink of an eye.”

Quarterback Tyler Stewart, a 6-4, 210-pound senior, is a big-time player. He’s thrown for 2,003 yards and 30 touchdowns, leading an offense that averages 46 points and nearly 400 yards per game.

An All-CIF first-team selection as a junior, Stewart has plenty of weapons to choose from: Running back Xavier Menifield (5-10, 180 pounds) has rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored 23 touchdowns; Danny Jordan (5-9, 155) has run for 710 yards and seven scores; Julian Brooks (6-2, 185) is the Trailblazers’ big-play receiver. He’s made a verbal commitment to Arizona. Other receiving threats are Preston White (32 catches 428 yards, 7 TDs) and tight end Brian Tucker (20 for 267, 5 TDs).

The offense operates behind a line that averages 240 pounds.

Defensively, Sierra Canyon is led by Tucker and 225-pound Jesse Janes at linebacker and 6-5, 220-pound defensive end Patrick McGown, who leads the team with 17 sacks and 85 total tackles.
“Their strength defensively is they limit teams big plays and capitalize on mistakes,” said Crawford.

Sierra Canyon coach John Ellinghouse raved about his defense after his team’s 38-0 quarterfinal win at Ontario Christian

“If we play defense like we did in our quarterfinal win at Ontario Christian, we have an incredible chance because they were just lights out and very physical,” Ellinghouse told the L.A. Daily News. “Our team fed off of that, and from what I saw, we’re a pretty special football team.”

Bishop Diego was uncharacteristically mistaken-prone in its win over Twentynine Palms.

Crawford said the kind of mistakes it made last Friday would be fatal against Sierra Canyon.

The Cardinals will need a big game from senior quarterback Nolan Tisdale.

“It seems like a game plan to win has to consist of some pretty straight forward principles involving execution, winning the turnover battle, and controlling the pace and ball possession of the game,” he said. “You can’t make mistakes in terms of turnovers, penalties, and sacks to give them the ball or good field position. Every game we have (seen on film) they capitalize on those types of mistakes and did so against us last year in the first round.

“… Sierra Canyon has more weapons to make you pay,” Crawford added. “So, while we got away with some mistakes in the quarterfinal, we are unlikely to get away with them again.”

Cleaning up the mistakes, he said, is a matter of the team refocusing.

“We’re not dwelling on last Friday night because those Twentynine Palms guys were big and fast, too. Hopefully, it was a nice learning experience. I’m pretty proud of the fact that our guys responded to Friday with a real sense that we did not perform like we can instead of being satisfied — it’s proving to be a motivator this week.”

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