Opening week of the Sunset League football race is a big one. It provides teams the chance to start anew and get a leg up on the competition.
For Huntington Beach, no game is bigger than the one scheduled that week for the Oilers, no matter the opponent, Coach Eric Lo said. The fact that their next foe is Edison, only adds to its importance.
The Oilers' league debut on Friday comes against an Edison program that has won or shared seven of the last eight, and eight of 10, Sunset championships.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Huntington's Sheue Field.
"It's the most important game for us this year, because it's the game we are playing this week," Lo said. "They are the defending league champs and are a very good and well-coached team but for us, this is about getting ourselves ready to play in a tough, tough league. We're more concerned about ourselves. We've talked about Edison but we have five, big games ahead of us.
"For us, it's one game at a time. That's our singular focus."
The Edison-Huntington game is one of three Sunset openers on tap this week. Also Friday, Fountain Valley (4-1) takes on Marina (1-4) at Westminster High. The league race actually gets underway Thursday when undefeated Los Alamitos (5-0) goes on the road to take on Newport Harbor (3-2).
Huntington has had two weeks to prepare for its league opener. The Oilers have been idle since they beat Downey, 37-29, on Sept. 27.
The Oilers (3-2) are itching to get back in game action.
"The guys are really excited," Lo said. "We know Edison's a good team. They are really good up front with their offensive line and they get after it. They are strong on defense and have two really good corners.
"We're looking forward to the challenge of playing them."
Edison prepped for the start of league by disposing of San Clemente, 35-7, last week. Senior running back Tyler Warren rushed for a game-high 101 yards and scored three times. Junior running back Manase Time started the scoring with a five-yard touchdown run, and senior quarterback Christian Heffelman teamed with senior receiver Jeremy Maxwell on a 66-yard scoring pass.
Warren, who also played defensive back, also blocked a punt.
The 35 points were a season-high for the Chargers (3-2) who were coming off back-to-back losses to Servite and Mater Dei.
The Edison defense has held three opponents (Garfield, Mater Dei, San Clemente) to a single touchdown.
"I thought we played really well against San Clemente," Edison Coach Dave White said. "We had some guys out with injuries but the kids stepped up and came through.
"I thought Tyler [Warren] played a great game. Defensively, we have played well two weeks in a row now. The key for us was that we didn't turn the ball over, which we did against Servite and Mater Dei."
The Chargers now face a Huntington team that has scored 30 or more points in four of five games.
"They can score," White said. "Kai Ross is scary. He's really athletic and makes plays both at quarterback and on defense [as a cornerback]. He runs the ball well and has a good arm. He's their leader."
Both teams have key players out with injury. Heffelman has started at quarterback the past two weeks for Edison. He has been in a rotation with Matt Gane, who suffered a groin injury against Servite three weeks ago, throughout the season. White said Gane will return to the lineup this week.
The Chargers also welcome back two-way starter, receiver/defensive back Jake Favreau, who missed the San Clemente game. However, they won't have top running back Marcus Flanagan (shoulder) for a second straight week. The senior was injured two weeks ago in the Mater Dei game.
White said the final five weeks of the regular season loom huge.
"This is what really counts," he said. "Our league has so much parity and it's going to be a real battle. I don't think any team will go 5-0."
White might be right.
When the Sunset League opens this week, it will do so with four teams, Edison (No. 2), Los Alamitos (No. 3), Fountain Valley (No. 5), and Huntington Beach (No. 8), ranked in this week's top 10 of the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division poll.
All four teams have been regular tenants in the poll throughout the first half of the season. A fifth team, Newport Harbor, had resided there until a loss to Mira Costa last Friday dropped the Sailors from the rankings.
"The Sunset League is really competitive right now," Lo said. "Quite a few teams have done well in [nonleague]. Edison is solid, again, and Los Al, from what I've seen of them, looks so athletic. Fountain Valley is inspired and playing really good football, and when you play Newport Harbor, you always know it will be a tough, physical game.
"This league will be a dog fight. It's going to be a battle each and every week."
And this is only Week No. 1.
Marina (1-4) vs. Fountain Valley (4-1)
(7 p.m., Westminster High)
Fountain Valley has won its last two games and Marina has dropped three straight heading into their Sunset League opener.
It's the first Sunset League game for first-year Fountain Valley Coach Ray Fenton whose Barons are coming off a bye week.
The Barons closed out nonleague play with consecutive wins over Wilmington Banning and Westminster.
Marina completed nonleague play last week against Capistrano Valley, and dropped a 42-7 game to the visiting Cougars who pulled away by outscoring the Vikings, 21-0, in third quarter.. Senior quarterback Daylan Harmeyer threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Parker Melfi for the Vikings who trailed by only 20-7 at the half.
"We had some breakdowns and they took advantage," Marina Coach George Pascoe said. "The game got away from us.
"You've got to execute a full 48 minutes in our league, if you hope to win."
Loara (3-2) vs. Ocean View (0-5)
(7 p.m., Ocean View High)
It's been a tough first month of the season for an injury-plagued Ocean View team which gets a fresh start against Loara in a Golden West League opener for both teams.
The Seahawks concluded nonleague play last week and fell, 45-14, to Los Amigos, which was ranked sixth (the Lobos are No. 4 this week) in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division at game time. Senior running back Daniel Valencia, who had been out sidelined by illness, returned to the Ocean View lineup and rushed for 117 yards on 23 carries and caught a five-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Blake Meyer. The Seahawks' other score came on a 50-yard pass play from Meyer to junior receiver Tyler Clay.
Ocean View trailed by only 20-14 going into the fourth quarter.
"We were able to get some offensive rhythm with [Daniel] Valencia back in the lineup," Ocean View Coach Luis Nunez said. "Our kids haven't quit on the season as we played tough until it unraveled with eight minutes left in the game. We had the ball down, 20-14, in the fourth [quarter]."
Loara is coming off a bye week. In their most recent outing, the Saxons routed Anaheim, 34-14. Quarterback David Gistlinck threw for 250 yards and four touchdowns.
Loara has scored 34 or more points in three of its first five games.
Both teams have a common nonleague opponent in Estancia: Loara blanked the Eagles, 35-0, on Sept. 6, and Ocean View lost, 41-14, to the Eagles one week later.
"Turnovers have plagued us all year, and they keep costing us," Nunez said. "We get to start with a clean slate this week with Loara. Our goal this week is to protect the football and keep our defense off the field as much as possible. Our offense has put our defense in bad position all year with costly turnovers."
Brethren Christian (4-1) vs. Downey Calvary Chapel (2-2)
(7 p.m., Warren High)
Brethren Christian looks to add to a four-game win streak when it goes to Downey to face the Grizzlies in an Academy League opener for both teams.
The Warriors last week made it four-straight wins by knocking off winless Riverside Christian, 45-6. They had their passing game in high gear as senior quarterback Jack McInally threw for 310 yards with five touchdown passes, two each to senior receiver Austin Gorrell and junior receiver Brandon Bryson, and one to junior receiver Guy Demazeliere.
"There are a lot of components to the passing game, and you have to do a lot of things to succeed at it," BC Coach Pat McInally said. "Jack and our receivers have been improving. Throws have been more accurate and patterns have been run better. We've had a high [passing] percentage during practices, and the guys carries it over to the Riverside game. They had a great game in that department."
The five touchdown passes, and 74% completion rate, were both season highs for Jack McInally.
The 310 passing yards were second to his 419 passing yards in BC's season opener against Arrowhead Christian Aug. 30.
Junior running back Andrew Assaf also rushed for a touchdown and sophomore Bobby Hardigree kicked a 28-yard field goal for the Warriors whose first league test comes against league newcomer Downey Calvary Chapel.
The Grizzlies bring a 2-2 record into their first league game. Last week, they were blanked, 35-0, by a Fairmont Prep team that BC had defeated, 35-21, the week prior.
The loss snapped a two-game win streak for the Grizzlies who are led by senior quarterback Matthew Sanchez, the team's leading rusher with 389 yards.
"They run the double wing T and then go into a spread offense, so it's going to be a challenge for our defense," Pat McInally said. "We have to be ready for both schemes."
BC's defense, which continues to receive strong play at end by senior Will Martin, has held two of its last three opponents to a single touchdown.