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2022 FOOTBALL PREVIEW – La Mirada ready to take on new league, old non-league opponents and stronger competition

 

August 10, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

 

LA MIRADA MATADORES

7-5 overall last season, 3-1 in the Suburban League, lost to Pasadena High 41-31 in the Division 7 second round playoffs

23-27 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Mike Moschetti (12th season over two stints, 77-43)

Lost 30 seniors out of 73 from 2021 roster

2022 schedule

Aug. 19           @ El Toro (7-4 overall last season)

Aug. 26           @ Yorba Linda (10-1)

Sept. 2            Servite (10-3)

Sept. 9            @ Mater Dei (12-0)

Sept. 16          @ Sunny Hills (7-4)

Sept. 23          BYE

Sept. 30          @ Dominguez (10-3)

Oct. 7              @ Mayfair (9-1)

Oct. 14            Paramount (2-6)

Oct. 21            Warren (8-1)

Oct. 28            Downey (7-4)

La Mirada High proved last season that even when you play one of the toughest non-league schedules in Southern California, you can surprise some people. Don’t read too much into the team’s 7-5 mark of last season as head coach Mike Moschetti felt there were two games the Matadores won that they should have lost.

“With the resiliency of our team last year…we weren’t very athletic, but we had kids who played hard and never quit,” said Moschetti. “Going into this year, our schedule is even tougher. We’re more athletic [and] we have a lot of returning players. The kids know what’s in front of them. We’re literally approaching a storm with our schedule. We’re just trying to take it one day at a time and one game at a time and try to get better.

The Matadores had been a powerhouse in the Suburban League for over two and a half decades and now, the league has joined forces with the San Gabriel Valley League to form the Suburban Valley Conference. From that, La Mirada will face new challenges in the Gateway League.

OFFENSE

The Matadores had a stretch of three straight games in which they scored 10 points or fewer. In the other games, La Mirada put up anywhere from 21-35 points and one of those wins was a forfeit victory against Firebaugh High. The team was also balanced in its attack, rushing for 1,857 yards and passing for 1,608 yards, all but one of those yards coming from starting senior quarterback senior Nehuel Garcia, who completed 133 passes and threw for 15 touchdowns. Moschetti says Garcia is more physical, bigger and has put on weight. He’s getting several looks from colleges, most notable Old Dominion University. His backup will be his younger brother Santino, a freshman who will play on the freshman team but suit up for the varsity games.

The longtime head coach stated that La Mirada is not a program that will give a running back the ball 30 times a game, Last season, 17 players carried the pigskin at least once with its leading rusher, Edward Lafferre gaining a team-high 774 yards. He, along with two of the next three leading rushers graduated, which leaves seniors Denver Stillman and C.J. Zackery, a transfer from La Habra High, and sophomore Gavin McQuarrie, a transfer from Warren High, as the guys who will get the bulk of the touches. Moschetti says his goal is to give all three of them at least 10 carries a game, maybe 15, depending on who is on the field for the plays that are run. He also added they all bring something different to what the Matadores are trying to do. Another ground gainer will be senior Tanner Roberts, who is slated to be the leading fullback.

The top returning wide receiver is senior Xavier Hicks, who caught 54 passes for 708 yards and scored five touchdowns last season. Seniors Trevor Cook, Evan Nasser, in his first year playing football, and Brody Roberts along with sophomore Kellen Watts and freshmen Gavin Lannon and Jordan Lauago will also be in the mix. Cook, Roberts and Watts are projected to be the tight ends, which Moschetti says, is one of the strongest positions.

“We’re really excited about our skill positions,” he said. “We have athletes, who are big and physical. We like our running backs; we like our quarterback. Depth is always a concern with every high school team in the world. But hopefully if we can stay healthy, we can be pretty efficient on offense.”

The Matadores offense keeps getting better with the return of all five linemen who have been in the system for two years. But unlike most teams, La Mirada uses a strong side and a weak side up front. All the starting linemen are seniors and the guards and tackles, which Moschetti refers to as quick and strong, can be flipped. The quick tackle is Logan Hager, the quick guard is Evan Villa, the center is Jacob Munoz, the strong guard is Nolan Molina and the strong tackle is Troy Hancock.

Last season, the Matadores were plagued with injuries, which meant guys like Lafferre and Hicks had over 700 yards in their respective positions. If the team stays injury-free, don’t expect to see those numbers this season as La Mirada will have more options.

“We’re an old school, Bill Walsh West Coast-type of offense where we use fullbacks, running backs, tight ends,” said Moschetti. “There will be an empty personnel with five wideouts. In a perfect world, we want backs to run with the ball, catch screens. We want receivers catching slants, go routes, tight ends running boots and play action and spread the ball around and getting everybody involved in our offense.”

DEFENSE

In three of the five losses last season, the margin was no more than 10 points while the other two were blowouts to Foothill High and Mater Dei High. In addition, the Matadores allowed just 28 points in the fourth quarter in the regular season. The line will consist of Cook, Hager, Roberts, Watts and senior Jake Rivera. The inside linebacker will be junior Sultan Woods, a transfer from Long Beach Poly High while the outside linebackers will be freshman Kimani Tuitasi, who stands at 6”3, 215 pounds, and McQuarrie. The secondary shapes up nicely with Hicks, who moves from corner to safety, with junior Greg Leon being the other safety while the cornerbacks will most likely be Lauago, junior Frank Torres and sophomore Josh Gonzalez.

“We feel really good about our front seven.” said Moschetti. “Our secondary is probably going to be a little beat, but we feel pretty good about our secondary also. We run multiple fronts on defense; we go from an even front to an odd front. Our base is an even front.

“We feel we’re ahead compared to last year and the Covid year,” he later added. “We’re a lot more athletic, we’re a lot more physical on the back end. But again, depth is a concern. If one guy goes down, who is going to step up?”

SCHEDULE

If La Mirada’s schedule has always been tough in the past, it just got tougher this year, especially with the new league. Only true rival Mayfair High joins the Matadores in the new Gateway League. But all five non-league opponents went to the playoffs last season and combined to lose 11 contests. The Matadores fell to El Toro High by three points in last season’s opener before winning three straight against teams that are not on this season’s schedule.

Moschetti is quick to say that the most important game is the first game because one, El Toro has defeated La Mirada the past two times the teams have met and two, the Matadores have to start off strong. In the past, La Mirada has won anywhere from two to four non-league games and still advanced to the playoffs because the Suburban League hasn’t been all that great outside of Mayfair and maybe Norwalk High.

“We like to play these big time schedules because the kids…you play Mater Dei at the Santa Ana Bowl and we’ve played them over the years,” said Moschetti. “They’ve hammered us, but it’s big crowds and it gets the kids used to big crowds playing against superior teams. We’re trying to prepare these kids to put them in adverse situations and get them ready to make a run to the playoffs.

“With the new playoff format, I think teams are making mistakes,” he later added. “They’re scheduling down and our goal and purpose was, because the [CIF-Southern Section] takes your power ranking…ours is going to be off the charts. Our theory is play the toughest schedule you can. If you have some hiccups and go 4-6; you go 5-5, you go 3-7, you’re still going be in the playoffs because of your power rankings. So that’s what our thought process is.”

Moschetti also reminded the doubters that Newport Harbor High went 3-7 in the regular season and ended up as Division 6 champions.

In the final season of the SGVL, Warren won all five games while Downey High and Dominguez High finished in second and third respectively. Paramount High, the lone opponent on La Mirada’s schedule that had a losing mark last season, finished in a tie with Gahr High for fourth place. Dominguez advanced to the Division 6 semifinals before falling to Newport Harbor

Since 2004, the Matadores have faced Paramount twice, winning in 2006 and 2007, lost to Downey in 2018 and 2019 and beat Dominguez 38-13 in 2015. The program has not faced Warren over that time.

“Our preseason is really good,” said Moschetti. “The difference is now we go into league and there are no gimmes in league. Mayfair has beaten us five years in a row. Dominguez is a playoff team. We played them years back, but they’re going to have athletes and they’re going to be physical. We have to play Paramount, we have to play Downey, we have to play Warren. That’s where the difference is.”

Moschetti believes the Gateway League is the third toughest in Southern California behind the Trinity League, which is the toughest in the nation with Mater Dei and St. John Bosco High leading the way and the Big VIII League, with powerhouses Corona Centennial High and Norco High. La Mirada will also play its four home games at Excelsior Stadium while its campus field, Goodman Stadium, is being renovated.

HOMECOMING

Following the league opener against archrival Mayfair, the Matadores will face Paramount for its homecoming game. Last season, La Mirada knocked off Norwalk High 35-10 on homecoming night.

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