CLAN vs Mission Viejo: Not quite what we hoped for

La Habra, September 8, 2017—With last week’s 45-14 victory over Tesoro a notable achievement, the Clan suffered a bit of setback this evening at The Pit. The Mission Viejo Diablos, ranked #2 in Orange County, rolled into town and looked every bit as good as their billing. This is a solid team on both sides of the line, with a ton of talent at the marquee positions, including quarterback Joey Yellen, runningback Jamari Ferrell, and wideout, Olaijah Griffin. Unfortunately for the Diablos, Ferrell left the game early in the first quarter with what looked like a serious knee injury.

For the most part, the Diablos outsized, out-quicked, and out-played the Highlanders in all phases of the game. Then, there were the penalties. It looked like laundry night at The Pit with yellow hankies flying early and often—and most often the dirty laundry belonged to Highlanders. On one early Diablo drive, three pass interference calls against the Clan virtually ushered the South County visitors across the goal line with a free pass.

Still, the Highlanders hung close for awhile, trailing just 14-6 at the half. In their first drive of the third quarter, Clan quarterback Zach Fogel hit several key passes during a quick scoring drive and the Clan pulled to within one point, 14-13. But, from there on out it was all Diablo poise and polish contrasting Highlander goofs and gaffs. At one point, with the game still a relative contest, consecutive Diablo kickoffs pinged off of stoney Clan hands leaving the Highlanders pinned inside of ther 5 yard-line both times. An interception and botched punt from deep in their own end zone followed these mishaps and ruined any chance of a Clan comeback.

After last week’s game I stated there were six things the Clan needed to do in order to beat the Diablos. That “To do” list follows with comments relative to this week’s performance noted in red.

SIX THINGS THAT NEED DOING
There are six things the La Habra Highlanders must do if they are to have a chance at beating the highly regarded Diablos:

  1. Dispense with running QB Zach Fogel on play-action keepers and intentional rushes from the QB position
    Fogle has heart, is a tough kid, and a great scholar-athelete. But he is not Eric Barriere. So, coach Mazzotta, you need to tear a couple of pages out of the 2017 playbook (the ones with all of Barriere’s stupendous ad-lib, electrify-the-stadium-miricle-makers from the recent glory years). Well, I’ll eat a bit of crow on this one—but just a morsel. Zach Fogel was a gutty, resiliant, do-or-die guy on his feet this evening. If he could not find an open receiver, he made the quick decision to go by ground. He used the sideline to save time on scrambles in the second half, and made significant yardage on most of his rushes. Good job, number 15.
  2. Fogel must hit his safety-valve, into-the-flat, and short passes at near-100% on September 8th
    It’s difficult to connect with a moving target on an extremely acute angle-of-flight with several 220 pound teenagers bearing down on you up the middle. But the short-stuff was too erratic to be “passible” in next week’s contest. Fogel needs the highest passer rating of his career against the Diablos. Fogel can improve in this area, and it is admittedly a finesse and confidence game throwing quick ‘tangent-angle’ passes to moving targets while in enemy crosshairs. Still, these short outs to the flat are some of the most effective plays in stretching the playing field against a superior opponent with good team speed (read that, Mission Viejo).
  3. The Highlander ground game must be as impressive as it was against Tesoro
    That means that the Clan’s ground-pounders up front are going to have to connect and sustain their leverage on what will probably be the biggest defensive front they’ll see in 2017. They don’t have to hold their blocks “forever”—Skyler Taylor proved that he only needs a bit of daylight in order to turn nothing into six (or perhaps 42). O-Line: If you block them, he will run. Well, it was not for lack of effort. As anticipated, the Diablo O- and D-fronts simply had more height, bulk, and strength than the Clan. Last week’s hero, Skyler Taylor, was kept in-check for the most part, but he did gut-out some sizeable gains along with Diablo respect. One 20 yard run ended only when half the Mission Viejo defense were required to make Taylor stop running. Nothing to be ashamed of in the effort department. The Clan play upper-division teams for a reason: to get better. And, they will.
  4. The Clan D-line must lay at least five hits on Mission QB, Joey Yellen
    Let’s face it, if the Clan D doesn’t enter the tatoo application business next Friday night, the evening could be a very long one. Highlander defenders laid one, maybe two, good licks on Joey Yellen. But, for most of the evening he could have been wearing a suit of tissue-paper and would have emerged from the contest without a tear on it. He’s a very accurate passer throwing to disciplined receivers with speed and great hands. Face it, this is an upper-tier outfit and the Clan have nothing to be ashamed of.
  5. The Clan D-line and linebackers must contain the Diablo running game
    Again, D-line: If you stop them, they must throw—and, in that scenario, you’ll know when the ball is going up in the air. Here is an area where the Clan succeeded perhaps 80% of the time. Look, the Diablo O-Line opened holes for very good running backs, but the Clan contained them over the course of the evening. It was the boo-boos and gotchas that sunk the Highlanders. Mission Viejo—for all of their power-size-and-speed advantage—did not cram the ball down Highlander throats. Again, good job Clan. Build on this.
  6. The Clan MUST convert all point-after-touchdown attempts against the Diablos
    Look, at some point this season, one point is going to be the difference-maker. Don’t let it be against the Diablos next Friday night.
    [Sigh . . .] Things did not improve in this area this evening. Missed PATs and “an adventure” on every attempt. This should be a bang-bang play (as it was for the Diablos, with one exception). Focus on this.

Against the Titans, the Clan defensive backfield was impressive. They played with the mindset of “receivers” with a right to the ball, and they made some great plays defending Titan wideouts. There are some pick-sixes in the Clan’s future. Bet on it. Unfortunately, the Clan seemed perhaps a little in awe of their opponent’s reputation. The defensive backs were tentative, sluggish, and drew at least ten-thousand flags for interference in this game. OK, so I exaggerate. But not much. Return to the free-wheeling, “we’re-going-to-take-the-ball-away-from-you” posture you had against Tesoro. It suits you.

Clan special teams—kick-off and punt return teams especially—are going to be worrisome for opponents all year long. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine on special teams. #EXCITING Ever wish you’d never said something after it was too late to take it back. While special teams more-than-sucked against the Diablos, clearly there is great talent and possibility with this part of the Highlander game. I still expect BIG THINGS in coming weeks—including at least two kickoff returns and two punt returns for TDs, before all is said and done for the Clan in December.

Last but not least, an improvement that applies to every future game, not just the Mission contest: Clan, you need to totally eliminate the delay-of-game penalty from your performance lexicon. Period. I repeat, NO MORE DELAY OF GAME PENALTIES, PERIOD. If you could sit in the intimate space that is The Pit on a Friday night and listen to what really, really, really ticks-off the knowledgeble fans in the stands, this is it. There simply isn’t any excuse known to man for drawing a delay of game penalty with the frequency that the Highlanders do. Perhaps go back to signals/signs to communicate plays from bench-to-field; or, perhaps, script several offensive scenarios so that neither huddle nor signals are necessary. But, please, Clan coaching staff, do something about this. This “one’s” on you.

Do all of this at The Pit on September 8, and you may pull-off a miracle of epic proportions against Mission Viejo. Perhaps, even an EB3-like miracle. That’s what’s great about football, in particular. On any given night a team with superior motivation can knock-off a group with advantages in all other areas. Admittedly, it doesn’t happen often. But it does happen. Just not on this evening, and not against the Mission Viejo Diablos.

Clan, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in losing to the #2 team in the County by 15 points. This was an “investment” in your future. Learn from it and pay back that “loan” come December.

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