CARLSBAD — It has been 13 years since the Carlsbad High School football program has played for a CIF San Diego Section title.
And on Nov. 23, the Lancers will play on its biggest stage in a generation as Carlsbad High battles perennial power and No. 1-ranked Helix at 7 p.m. at Southwestern College.
The third-ranked Lancers upset No. 2 Cathedral Catholic on Nov. 15 in a 21-20 slugfest, overcoming four turnovers, to advance. The difference was the Lancers defense holding strong, stopping Cathedral Catholic from converting a two-point conversion with about one minute left in the game.
Head coach Thadd MacNeal said he and the team are aware of the title drought and excitement surrounding this season, but he is confident his squad will be focused on game day.
“I don’t think their mentality has changed,” he said. “This is a mature group and they love playing together. They’ll be ready for this challenge. We’ll be an underdog this week and we’ll relish this role.”
Now, the Lancers are ready for their biggest test since a 43-6 win over Poway in the 2006 title game. Helix, meanwhile, slipped past St. Augustine, 12-7, to advance and is two years removed from a loss in the Division I-AA state championship game.
Leading the way for Carlsbad High are quarterback Aidan Sayin (1,971 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions), running backs Donegan Young (717 rushing yards, five TDs) and Norwood Mazlo (509, five) and wide receiver Cole Wright (57 receptions, 885 yards and nine TDs).
Wright is one of North County’s best two-way players, also being a standout defensive back.
Still, MacNeal knows the Lancers are in for a challenge, saying his squad must protect the ball better if Carlsbad expects to win. The four turnovers, including two interceptions, were uncharacteristic of how the team has played all season, he added.
“They are a fantastic team with fantastic athletes and great coaches,” MacNeal said of Helix. “We need to take care of the ball and be efficient. We need to have a good run-pass ratio. Our defense is just outstanding. They play with great technique and play really hard.”
Defensively, the Lancers have been stout, allowing 13.8 points per game with just three games surrendering more than 14 points. Senior Kyle Vassau leads the team with 73 tackles and eight sacks followed by Young (53) and sophomore Josh Davis (51).
Carlsbad High has relied on its pass rush as the Lancers have racked up 35.5 sacks over the season, along with 14 turnovers including 10 interceptions.
Still, MacNeal said his front seven is smaller, but their speed and ability to tackle and create turnovers has been a difference maker for Carlsbad. However, Helix counters with a three-headed monster in the run game with Elelyon Noa (1,085 yards, 11 TDs), Christian Washington (947, 14) and Delshawn Traylor (502, seven).
“We have a great chemistry as a team,” Vassau said. “As long as our d-line plays great technique, our DBs cover their guys and our LBs (linebackers) cover their gaps, we should be in good shape.”