If drama in a high school football game is what you’re looking for, two undefeated teams ranked first in their respective divisions battling in the final regular season game of the year should qualify.
Mission Prep (9-0), ranked atop the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division, will host Santa Barbara’s Bishop Diego (9-0), the team ranked highest in the Northwest Division, tonight at 7:30.
The Royals have crushed most opponents they’ve played this year, winning all but one game by at least 30 points.
But Bishop Diego will be their biggest test yet. The Cardinals are rolling into town after a 14-7 win last week against Nordhoff, the second-ranked team in their division. Nordhoff was undefeated before last week.
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Whichever team wins tonight stands a good chance at earning a state bowl berth in playoffs — further ratcheting up the stakes.
“This is the game of the year for us so far,” Mission Prep coach Chad Henry said. “Our kids are really excited. This will have playoff atmosphere. It will be a dogfight. It could come down to which 11 guys on each side of the ball want it more.”
Leading the way for the Royals is one of the county’s top players in quarterback Tyler Baty.
Baty has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards this season with 29 touchdowns and three interceptions. His passing yards on the season rank him 21st in the state among all Southern Section quarterbacks.
“Tyler is smart with the football,” Henry said. “He makes good decisions and controls our attack well. He gets us out of bad plays. He’s a third-year starter and that experience really helps.”
Baty’s favorite target, Joey Hall, has 810 yards receiving and scored 15 touchdowns.
And to complement a high-octane offense that’s balanced by 240 passing yards on average and 220 run yards per game, Michael Cardwell has dashed for 1,086 yards, averaging 9.6 yards per carry.
“They’re definitely more of a run team,” Henry said. “Our offense is more dynamic with run and pass. But we know they’re a great team. We’re going to have to eliminate mental mistakes and try to stop big plays.”
Henry said that Bishop Diego Tom Crawford has been a mentor to him as a coach and the Cardinals’ program, which has a history of success, is one that the Royals have strived to emulate.
Crawford has shared tips on offseason workouts, fundraising, and other key aspects of their program, which Henry said has helped the Royals grow. Both private schools have about 300 students enrolled.
Bishop Diego will bring a run-heavy offense that averages 307 yards per game compared with 95 passing yards per game. They’re lead by Anthony Carter and Abel Gonzalez, who both have more than 600 yards rushing.
Henry said that Cardinals quarterback Gabe Molina left the Nordhoff game with an injury but that Carter filled in well. He’s unsure if Molina will play tonight.
The Royals overall are healthy, having returned a few guys from injury, which is a luxury at this time in the season, Henry said.