2016: La Habra in the Post Eric-Era

Having watched the Murrieta Valley Nighthawks dismantle the La Habra Highlanders in the CIF football semi-finals, I thought it good to offer an overview of the 2016 season as I experienced it across the weeks. I make no claim to be an expert on the complete Highlander roster of players, nor on the game of football itself. But, I have some experience as an observer and so the thoughts that follow are all mine.

Admittedly, fan expectations were tempered after the departer of Eric Barriere, who piloted the CLAN for the past three seasons leading them to the 2015 CIF SS Title and into La Habra’s first-ever appearance in the state championship game. You might recall Barriere’s 2015 heroics included two “hail Mary” TD passes to defeat both Los Alamitos and San Clemente (for the title) on the final play in those two contests.

So, Highlander fans for the most part were not expecting a repeat of the Barriere era with a big unknown penciled-in to the QB spot in 2016. And, true to form, the CLAN rotated quarterbacks in the early going before settling on junior Zach Fogel as their field leader. I sat in for the first four games—a victory over El Toro in the opener, then consecutive losses to Tesoro (in OT), Mission Viejo (no shame), and Los Alamitos (revenge for 2015). Unable to get to game-5, I hopped into the yard and caught 10 minutes of the Colony game from the tarmack outside the stadium, above the “LH” logo in the north end zone. The CLAN ended up winning that game in double-OT (and Colony was a 2016 playoff team), the turning point for this season, in my view.

I missed every Freeway League contest as, for the first time in a decade-and-a-half, the Highlanders did not take the league title (Buena Park won their first Freeway League crown since the 1960s). But, my plan was to hop-back-in for Playoff-Game-1 as my assement of the Highlanders was that they would be “one-and-done” this year. So, color me (and some others) surprised when the CLAN knocked-off highly regarded Oaks Christian in round-one, Redlands East Valley in round-two, and found themselves one step from an opportunity to repeat as CIF Champs in what was arguably a ‘rebuilding year’ (if there can be such a thing in high school football).

If I were to end the story right here, it could be said that the Highlanders actually overachieved in 2016. And if we measured football success in how close a team comes to the championship game, the CLAN was quite successful this season. Unfortunately, we typically measure ultimate footall success in rings and banners, and from that perspective La Habra fell one game short of success. But, they have nothing to be ashamed of in their semi-final contest with the Murrieta Valley Nighthawks.

The CLAN jumped out to a 7-0 lead on their first drive after receiving the opening kickoff, and the teams traded touchdowns through most of the first half. But, whereas the Highlanders offensive performance plateaued in the second quarter, the Nighthawks remained simply unstoppable. MV quarterback Hank Bachmeier clearly is a Division-1 sure-shot, and he absolutely decimated the Highlander-D all evening. He had help on the ground, too, as runningback Olita Palmer simply could not be stopped—even when seemingly gang-tackled by Highlanders. Houdini with speed and muscles comes to mind. Then there was wideout Marquis Spiker who snagged at least three TD catches behind hapless Highlanders making it look easy every time.

On defense, outside linebacker Tevin Teague should have been issued a gray Highlander jersey. He was in the CLAN backfield all night, and Highlander QB, Zach Fogel, has the full-body “tatoos” this morning to prove it. By the final gun the Nighthawks had proven themselves worthy of a shot at the CIF crown next weekend after hammering the Highlanders 63-42. Make no mistake, the CLAN were worthy to be in the semi-final game, but the better team definitely advanced in 2016.

Editor’s note: So, it’s 24 hours later and the Southland is receiving the blessing of a good old fashioned soaking,complete with lightening and thunder. One has to wonder if the effectiveness of the Murrieta Valley air assault would have been dampened by the elements. No matter. The Nighthawks made their point on dry grass at the pit last night. And, frankly, I might have stayed home if the sky had opened up on Friday night instead of Saturday.

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