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Sports Talk: Trio of North County prep teams aim for CIF football titles

If you’re still playing high school football — or watching it — it’s already the most wonderful time of the year.

Forget about the NFL team that ditched San Diego. We hear it’s on a winning streak but we don’t want to go there.

Instead many are hitching a ride to some of the best prep football of the season. This weekend’s competition offers big games with big stakes and big-time bragging rights.

These student-athletes, win or lose, will never forget the day they competed for a prep football title.

Three local teams are still alive for a CIF San Diego Section crown, with all games being played at Southwestern College.

El Camino (7-5) and Eastlake (10-2) will battle for the Division I title on Friday at 7 p.m. Mission Hills (12-0) takes on Helix (11-1) the following night for the Open Division championship, also at 7. Before that pairing, Santa Fe Christian (8-4) plays El Centro Southwest (12-0) in Division III.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for the players. But for one prep sportswriter, it’s his fourth decade reporting on these games.

“Oh gosh, this is probably my 40th finals,” John Maffei said.

Maffei, an Escondido resident, is the dean of covering San Diego County prep sports. There’s not much he’s missed on his watch, one that has seen him scribble for the Oceanside Blade Citizen-Tribune, the North County Times and now the San Diego Union-Tribune.

He was a trusted colleague of mine at every one of those stops. So if I start yapping about prep sports, it’s only after putting my ear to the receiver as Maffei talks.

When El Camino is mentioned, Maffei is impressed. The Wildcats overcame a head-coaching change on the eve of the season and despite that, advanced to the final. They had to survive a nail-bitter against Oceanside, 49-42, in the semifinal to snap the Pirates’ eight-game winning streak against their crosstown rivals.

El Camino still has a pulse because of the calm demeanor of quarterback Jaden Casey. His scoring run with 10.8 seconds left was the difference.

“He’s pretty good, throwing for more than 2,700 yards,’’ Maffei said. “He has two really special receivers in Malachi Russell and Wayne Steward.’’

Mission Hills has a unique talent as well in quarterback Jack Tuttle. Before his career continues at the University of Utah, Tuttle will try to earn a title in the Grizzlies’ fifth trip to the finals.

Like El Camino, Mission Hills pulled out a thriller, a 20-17 decision over Torrey Pines. Tuttle clicked with Quinton Hadnot with 72 seconds remaining on a 16-yard scoring pass.

Tuttle is legit, according to Maffei. Ditto for Chris Olave, a wide receiver that nearly every major college is recruiting.

Then there’s Santa Fe Christian, the Solana Beach squad that might lead everyone it grit. Despite an early season injury to quarterback Demitri Washington, the Eagles are flying high.

Maffei agrees, but he notes they are doing so by staying on the ground.

“They run that funky Wing-T offense and they are very well coached,” Maffei said. “They seem to have the knack for making the big play when they need it.’’

If looking for something to do this weekend, here are three good options. Like the players, you’ll likely never forget the game, either.

Contact Jay Paris

at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports