Capistrano Valley’s Jake Meyer celebrates his touchdown reception in the first half against Tustin in a nonleague football game at Capistrano Valley High, Friday, August 17. (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Contributing Photographer)
PUBLISHED: September 6, 2018 at 3:20 pm | UPDATED: September 6, 2018 at 9:57 pm
Capistrano Valley football coach Ernie Bucher can ace most questions about his team. Quick: How many transfers do the Cougars have? Hardly any. But there is one intriguing matter that he isn’t quite sure about.
Just how good is his team?
“I don’t know,” he said calmly this week. “We’ll answer that question on a weekly basis.”
This week, the inquiry for the No. 11 Cougars (3-0) arrives in a Friday showdown at No. 17 Yorba Linda (2-0) in the OCVarsity Game of the Week. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Bucher calls the Mustangs the Cougars’ “toughest test so far,” but if Capistrano Valley passes the exam like it did the previous three, that question facing the Cougars will only grow more fascinating.
Are they good enough to contend for the title in the ultra-tough South Coast League?
In South County football, that’s been the question for almost two decades. Can anyone beat Mission Viejo?
Starting with Bob Johnson’s second year coach at Mission Viejo in 2000, the Diablos have lost only twice in the South Coast League, both times to Tesoro, in 2007 and 2008.
But Johnson has retired, replaced by another quarterback guru, Chad Johnson. And the Cougars have their own standout passer in Nathan Manning, a stellar group of wide receivers and linebacker James Giles, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior who Bucher said is being under-recruited by colleges.
Who does Capistrano Valley open South Coast League play against? Yep, Mission Viejo on Oct. 5.
“We’ll worry about (the South Coast) when we get there,” Bucher said. “I hope we can compete.”
Capistrano Valley dominated its first three opponents. The Cougars outscored Tustin, La Mirada and Pacifica 124-21.
Capo Valley quarterback Nathan Manning passes in the first half. Tustin High School took on Capistrano Valley in a non-league football game at Capistrano Valley High, Friday, August 17. (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Contributing Photographer)
Manning hasn’t played a complete game because of the lopsided scores but has thrown for 902 yards and a county-leading 15 touchdowns in only eight quarters.
Bucher said the senior, committed to Cal for baseball, remains uniquely humble, but the Cougars have reason to be confident.
“We’ve played well,” he said. “We played really good against Pacifica.”
Manning hasn’t been sacked. An offensive line with one returning starter has received steady play from seniors Otan Motamedi (6-1, 275), Kevin Hill (6-1, 235), Kevin Esmaeili (6-2, 315) and Corey Bannerman (5-11, 260) and junior Brennan Karsh (6-5, 245).
The Cougars’ defensive line has more than held its own. After graduating dynamic pass rushers Zach Ritner and Nolan Reeve – they combined for almost 49 sacks last season – junior defensive ends Daniel Gutierrez and Patrick Griu have emerged as capable compliments for nose guard Juan Carlos Saldivar, who has 10 tackles for loss.
Line play will be critical against Yorba Linda. The Mustangs like to run the ball and marched about 8 of 9 minutes for a first-quarter scoring drive last week in a 26–6 victory against Troy.
Keeping Manning off the field is the best way to slow him down. James Festini (6-3, 200) was a fill-in quarterback for the Mustangs last season in a 38–7 loss against the Cougars but is now Yorba Linda’s top running back.
Junior left tackle Nate Cardona (6-3, 265) leads an offensive line that features promising sophomore guard Mason Randolph (6-2, 260) and emerging senior right tackle Kyle Trombley (6-4, 255), who moved from Virginia just before last season.
Yorba Linda coach Jeff Bailey said the Cougars represent a challenge and an opportunity for growth as he team moves closer to a Crestview League ruled by Villa Park.
“I think we’re going to keep getting better,” he said.