Sondheimer: Sierra Canyon's big win over Orange Lutheran proves it belongs in Division 1 playoffs

COSTA MESA, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Sierra Canyon wide receiver Cole Crawford hauls in a 38-yard pass for touchdown in the second quarter against Orange Lutheran at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Sierra Canyon receiver Cole Crawford hauls in a 33-yard pass for a touchdown in the second quarter against Orange Lutheran on Friday night at Orange Coast College. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Five weeks into the high school football season, let's offer an observation as clear as the picturesque Orange County sunset Friday night — Sierra Canyon is headed to the Southern Section Division 1 playoffs for the first time in school history.

Yes, the Trailblazers still have to win the Mission League, but they moved to 4-0 overall and 2-0 against powerful Trinity League competition with a 40-6 victory over Orange Lutheran at Orange Coast College.

The Lancers played without injured quarterback TJ Lateef, then lost his replacement, Alex Medyn, after a sack in the second quarter. He was replaced by feisty freshman Julian Medina, who was no match for Sierra Canyon's powerful defense even though he was slinging the ball the best he could.

Barring a collapse in the coming weeks, the Trailblazers have everything needed to be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed behind St. John Bosco and Mater Dei in the Division 1 playoffs.

"We think they're the best team we've played," Orange Lutheran coach Rod Sherman said. "There are not many Trinity League teams not in the Trinity League, but Sierra Canyon and Corona Centennial could be. Sierra Canyon is built like a Trinity League team with how athletic they are on the perimeter and how physical they are up front."

Sierra Canyon held a 20-6 halftime lead, with quarterback Wyatt Becker completing touchdown passes of 33 yards to Cole Crawford and six yards to Dane Dunn. Terrell Cooks had a five-yard touchdown run.

Cooks scored his second touchdown on a 15-yard run to start the third quarter and give the Trailblazers a 27-6 lead.

Orange Lutheran's Steve Chavez scored on a one-yard run to briefly tie the score at 6-6, but the Lancers were shut out the rest of the way.

Sierra Canyon has been coming close to being a Division 1 team in recent years. The Trailblazers were probably good enough last season when they won the Division 2 title, but a 1-3 start was too much to overcome. With wins over JSerra, Oaks Christian and Orange Lutheran this season, the Trailblazers have proved they belong among the upper echelon. Top transfer students at quarterback, receiver and in the secondary combined with a couple of elite freshmen have given the Trailblazers an opportunity to make a breakthrough.

Sierra Canyon receiver Cameron Mitchell runs down the sideline for a first down in the second quarter Friday night.
Sierra Canyon receiver Cameron Mitchell runs down the sideline for a first down in the second quarter against Orange Lutheran on Friday night. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

As good as Sierra Canyon's defense has been, the offense remains a work in progress. Becker was sacked three times. Sloppy penalties in the first half took away scoring opportunities. Two conversion kicks were blocked. Several receivers with scholarship offers have yet to live up to their preseason hype. In the end, though, Becker completed 18 of 31 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dunn rushed for 87 yards in 11 carries.

"This is one of our biggest wins in program history," Sierra Canyon coach Jon Ellinghouse told his players afterward.

The rise of the defensive line has allowed Sierra Canyon's secondary to play lots of man-to-man coverage with no need to blitz.

"Being back there, you kind of expect the ball to come out quicker because of how good the defensive line is," Sierra Canyon safety Marquis Gallegos said.

Whether by Week 10 they'll be able to be competitive against Mater Dei and St. John Bosco remains to be seen. And Gardena Serra could offer competition in the Mission League.

Orange Lutheran has made it through one of the toughest nonleague schedules at 3-2. When Lateef returns to join a quality offensive line and a solid running back in Chavez, the Lancers should be in business. Chavez rushed for 122 yards in 19 carries Friday.

Sherman thinks his team will be better prepared for the challenges ahead.

"You have to ratchet it up," he said of the competition. "It gets you ready for the gauntlet of the Trinity League and playoffs."

Let's hear it for the neighborhood schools. Among the unbeatens are Agoura (5-0), Santa Monica (5-0), Glendale (5-0), Palos Verdes (5-0), San Juan Hills (5-0), Oxnard Pacifica (5-0), Beaumont (5-0), Capistrano Valley (5-0), Etiwanda (5-0), Vista Murrieta (4-0), Rancho Cucamonga (5-0), San Clemente (5-0), Tustin (5-0), Bonita (5-0), Tahquitz (5-0) and Diamond Ranch (5-0).

Mission Viejo pulled out a 34-28 triple-overtime win over Los Alamitos in one of two key battles to decide the top public school in Orange County. Mission Viejo vs. San Clemente on Oct. 13 should decide it.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.