Loyola sent a strong message about its developing culture change at the Battle at the Beach seven-on-seven passing tournament hosted by Edison High School on Saturday in Huntington Beach. Twenty of the top teams in California - and the nation - were in attendance at California's premier passing tournament, and the Cubs unequivocally proved that they were deserving of inclusion in the elite field of competitors.
Four veteran head coaches of opposing programs sought out Loyola first year varsity head man Rick Pedroarias to tell him it was readily apparent a culture change was underway at 1901 Venice. Jason Negro, the head coach at St. John Bosco, noted that the Cubs were competing at a higher level. Long time head man Mike Herrington of Hart made a similar comment as did his brother Dean Herrington (former Alemany head coach), who is the head coach at Paraclete. Lou Farrar, the head man at Charter Oak also expressed how impressed he was with how hard Loyola played.
The day got off to a rocky start as the Cubs fell to defending CIF Southern Section Div. I and State champion St. John Bosco in the first pool play game of the day. The Braves have multiple players with Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers, including seven of its defensive backs. Loyola came out of the gates slowly - the Cubs had not played in a tournament since May 20 - which it could ill afford against such a talented foe. Loyola bounced back, though, with an impressive win over perennial passing power Hart, led by Cal-bound quarterback, J.T. Shrout, in the second contest.
Two fourth down passes were dropped by the Cubs in the end zone in a taut fray with Paraclete in game three, and that spelled the difference in 15-12 setback to the Spirits from Lancaster, who advanced to the Gold Division semifinals. Paraclete - behind the efforts of QB Brevin White (who is attending his third high school in four years) defeated St. John Bosco, 25-14, in pool play, earning it a spot in the Gold Division playoffs. Loyola fell to league rival Gardena Serra in a hotly contested affair after a late Cavalier touchdown.
The Cubs entered the afternoon's Silver Division playoffs as the fourteenth seed by virtue of its head-to-head win over Hart which defeated Serra. Bosco, Serra and Paraclete each had 3-1 records in Pool C.
Loyola played La Habra in a quarterfinal playoff match-up, and came away with an impressive victory over the Highlanders as JACOB McBRIDE caught a 40-yard bomb from freshman quarterback MILLER MOSS just before time expired. The win over La Habra was impressive as the Highlanders claimed victories over Mater Dei (which played without its starting QB and best WR, who were sidelined with minor ailments) and defending Los Angeles City Section champion Narbonne, 26-13, in pool play.
The Cubs were pitted against Charter Oak, which won the championship of its own tournament in May, in a semifinal showdown. The Chargers took advantage of a couple of early Cub defensive miscues to pull out a 21-15 victory. Charter Oak defeated Bishop Amat for the Silver Division title. Earlier in the day the Chargers had routed powerful Corona Centennial, 24-11. Mater Dei, the number-one ranked team in the state and a top three-ranked team nationally in preseason polls, defeated Bosco in the Gold Division finals on an interception in the end zone on the final play of the tilt.
Lost in the story about the cultural changes observed by prominent opposing coaches was the talent displayed by Loyola's quarterback duo of junior NATHAN PRIESTLEY, a 6" 4", 190 lb. gunslinger who was named the MVP of two quarterback camps in which he participated, and freshman phenom MILLER MOSS, whose calmness and accuracy were very impressive especially considering his status as a ninth grader. Offensive coordinator Casey Quedenfeld has an enviable situation on his hands, as Priestley and Moss may be the most talented signal calling duo - competing at the same time - in Cub football annals. The two alternated series throughout the day, and both had big moments delivering the ball. The battle for the starting slot under center will likely continue to be waged until shortly before - and maybe even beyond - the first non-league game of the season against Fairfax on August 25.
Three things Loyola needs more work on is rerouting opposing receivers, red zone proficiency on offense and better concentration catching the ball by the receiving corps. There were some critical drops that proved to be difference makers. That being said, the receiving stable is talented.
Among the Loyola players who shined at Edison were senior WR/nickel DEAMIL AGUILAR and senior WR/LB DAKOTA SMITH, both of whom played like warriors all day long. They were probably the unofficial Cub MVPs. As indicated, both quarterbacks acquitted themselves well. Senior linebacker TOMMY VANIS, junior inside linebacker CHASE BRANIGAN and senior WR/OLB JACOB McBRIDE were singled out by the staff as showing toughness and physicality.
Coach Pedroarias's message to his troops after the final tournament contest was that he was pleased with the team's acceptance of the mandate that they compete - and compete with physicality - but the next step being demanded is to not only compete, but to succeed with an expectation to win. More than one of the aforementioned opposing coaches predicted that the Cubs will surprise this season, and with the cultural changes underway, an expectation of winning on the part of the players is the next step in the process.
Los Angeles Times sportswriter Eric Sondheimer wrote that Saturday's field was probably the best in the tournament's history. It was a great sign that Loyola was in the thick of it.