Since joining the Northern League last season, the Mission Prep football team has been searching for one thing: respect.
Respect usually comes in the form of wins, something the Royals didn’t have many of last season. Mission Prep finished 2014 with a 4-7 overall record, 1-3 in Northern League. But heading into Friday night’s game against Nipomo, everything is on the line. Mission Prep has a league win against Templeton under its belt and controls its own destiny. A win over Nipomo would all but lock up a Northern League title, and more importantly to coach Chad Henry and his team, earn respect.
“It really means a lot for us to have respect,” Henry said at practice Wednesday. “In this area, unless you are playing schools that are here, people don’t have a way to put a barometer on what you are doing, so these games have so much more importance locally.”
Last season, Nipomo gave Mission Prep a warm Northern League welcome in the form of a 36-0 beat down. Then a sophomore, quarterback Bryce Fledderman had one of his worst games of the season against the Titans, throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns. Fledderman said that last season poor performances, like the one against Nipomo, shook his confidence. But this season, with the help of Henry, Fledderman said he is taking a different approach.
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“I’m having fun, that’s probably the easiest way to say it,” Fledderman said. “I’m not trying to put everything on my shoulders, but just trying to go out there and do my job as the quarterback.”
“Fledderman is much improved,” Nipomo coach Tony Dodge said. “He gets rid of the ball on time and has a few receivers that can really catch the ball.”
Through seven games this season, Fledderman’s completion percentage has increased by 10 percent, and he is throwing more touchdowns and less interceptions compared with 2014.
“Everybody knows I can do it, it’s just sometimes I don’t think. So there are some instances where I get too into the game than I should be,” Fledderman said.
He hasn’t had to go at it alone, either.
Mission Prep running back Brayden Corona leads the Northern League in rushing yards and is tied for the lead in touchdowns. Receiver Angel Sanchez also leads the league in receiving yards, and Patrick Miller is tied for second.
“(Mission Prep) is very balanced running and throwing the ball,” Dodge said. “They are going to give us a good challenge and we are going to give them some different looks in the secondary. We are prepared for whatever.”
Along with being head coach, Dodge calls the plays for the best defense in the Northern League, led by the league’s leading tackler in Terry Wambolt and sacker David Leon. Nipmo’s defense has given up just three points in its past two wins.
“(Nipomo’s) defensive front is great,” Henry said, “both their defensive line and their linebacking corps. We have to be really disciplined and try to match their physicality.”
Henry said his offensive and defensive lines have a “severe size disadvantage”, but Mission Prep will look to use the team’s quickness against Nipomo. The Royals will get some size back on its defensive line this week. Robert Crandall, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound junior, is expected to play after missing the past few games. Miller, who has been slowed by an ankle injury, also expects to be close to 100 percent and get more snaps on defense at linebacker for the first time in three games.
“I think everyone understands that this is it for us,” Miller said. “I couldn’t be more excited. I can’t get anything done besides think about this game.”
“Whether we win or lose isn’t going to be as important to us a being able to show that we can compete and that we are a team that can stand toe to toe with the teams that are in our conference,” Henry said.
But don’t be mistaken, the Royals want to win the game, and win respect.
Northern League Sack Leaders
- David Leon (Nipomo): 6
- Jacob Wright (Mission Prep): 5
- Jake Corgiat (Mission Prep): 3
- Clemente Ramiscal (Nipomo): 3
- Miguel Ayala (Santa Maria): 2