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A Delayed Glimpse of Friday Night Lights

November 23rd, 2018 · 2 Comments · Abu Dhabi, Football, France, Sports Journalism

In 30 prep football seasons, through 2007, I reported on … I’m going to make an educated guess and say … 300 games.

In the 11 seasons that followed, I reported on … zero prep football games.

Not because I lost interest in the high school games, but because I was out of the business for most of a year, then worked four months in Hong Kong and six-plus years in Abu Dhabi, and then moved to France.

We are spending some time in California this winter, and while channel-surfing on the TV we came across what clearly was a prep football game. And then it got better.

Not only was the game for a divisional championship … it involved Cajon High School of San Bernardino, a team I covered dozens of times, in a previous life. And then we settled in to watch the second half of the game.

Cajon won a CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship a year ago, and this time around it was playing for the D3 championship.

I feared the worst when we picked up the action a bit before halftime, with a school named Sierra Canyon, of Los Angeles, leading Cajon 17-0. However, Cajon got a touchdown and two-point conversion just before half, and that that meant I would be watching till the end.

Thing about Cajon is … I have been gone so long that I recognized exactly nobody in the game or on the sideline.

(Conversely, perversely, I do remember the coach, Chuck Pettersen, and several of the players from the 1976 team that I covered — quarterback Craig Gerber, tailback Freddie Washington, receivers Tony Goolsby and Mike Savage, fullback Kevin Payne …)

The current coach is a bearded guy named Nick Rogers, who apparently is 40 years old and a Cajon alumnus — which means I may have seen him play in high school and do not remember him, which is probably about me, not him. And Cajon’s quarterback, Jayden Daniels, has set a batch of records during his four years as a starter (career yards, 13,960; and career touchdown passes, 170, in 53 starts).

I did recognize the venue: Cajon was the home team, but the game was staged at San Bernardino Valley College, which I could make out from the moments when the cameras pulled back from the action.

So, the game … Cajon rallied sharply by getting a few stops against a bigger and stronger team, and by taking advantage of its handful of speedy skill players, led by Daniels, a fine passer and and excellent  scrambler.

Cajon closed to 24-22 and took the lead at 30-27 when Daniels threw a nice ball to 6-foot-8 receiver Darren Jones.

The visitors moved ahead again at 34-30, but Daniels led the Cowboys to the 4-yard line. On fourth down, however, a trick play had a running back throwing a pass to Daniels, but he was hauled down short of the end zone and that was that.

Some observations:

–Televised prep football games are much slicker than they were a decade ago. The images are sharper, and the two-man broadcast crew seemed reasonably well-informed about the teams they were watching.

–It is an article of faith in the the Inland Empire that L.A.-based broadcasters see games from the perspective of the L.A. team. Still the case, though it didn’t seem to be as noticeable as I remembered it,

–Prep teams seem better-coached, and more flexible in their tactics; Cajon understood Daniels had to be involved in everything they did, and took advantage of that, and Sierra Canyon knew it had to run the ball to win, and did both.

It ended 34-30, and I felt sad for Cajon, given that their previous championship was 1987 … but wait, the broadcast crew told me Cajon had won a title the year before. Missed that entirely.

Meanwhile, at the same time, another San Bernardino team, San Gorgonio, won a championship at D9, defeating Brea Olinda 21-17  on a 20-yard fourth-down TD pass in a game that was not, sadly, televised. And Kaiser of Fontana defeated Arcadia 38-35 when a sophomore named Michael Mosqueda kicked a 26-yard field goal on the last play of the game. Also not on TV.

What has not changed over the past decade is that prep football is a grand kaleidoscope of styles, tactics and personalities. I miss it.

I would like to see a game involving a couple of the teams I knew from years ago. And if one or two people I remember wander past the camera … like Rich Imbriani of Cajon; that was you on the field after the game, wasn’t it? … all the better.


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joseph D'Hippolito // Nov 25, 2018 at 4:12 PM

    Is that the same Craig Gerber who played in the major leagues as an infielder?

  • 2 Gil // Nov 25, 2018 at 10:41 PM

    You know more about my alma mater than I do!

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