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Foothill Seeking Continued Improvement as CIF Football Playoffs Progress

Foothill Seeking Continued Improvement as CIF Football Playoffs Progress

Senior running back Aaron Mitchell (No. 2) runs with the ball for Foothill High School’s football team in a recent game. (Courtesy of Gary Cunningham)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

11/6/2023

Updated: 11/6/2023

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Things haven’t always been pretty for Foothill High School’s football team this season, but the Santa Ana, California-based Knights picked a good time to paint their most attractive picture yet.
On the heels of last week’s impressive 35-22 victory over visiting Aquinas of San Bernardino in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs, Foothill will attempt to add to its portfolio against top-seeded Newbury Park at 7 p.m. Nov. 10 at Tustin High.
“I’ve been saying all year that we haven’t played our best football yet,” senior running back Aaron Mitchell told The Epoch Times. “We talked about somewhat peaking, playing our best football and staying there for the rest of the year. I’ve been on teams before where we were great at the start. But this team is different. Not everyone bought in at first, and then we all came together and we’re like, ‘Let’s win this.’ We’re a better team than we thought we were.”
A 5-foot-9, 185-pound third-year starter, Mitchell certainly did his part against Aquinas.
He rushed for 215 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries, bringing his season totals to 1,364 yards and 23 scores.
Senior running back Aaron Mitchell (No. 2) runs with the ball for Foothill High School’s football team in a recent game. (Courtesy of Gary Cunningham)

Senior running back Aaron Mitchell (No. 2) runs with the ball for Foothill High School’s football team in a recent game. (Courtesy of Gary Cunningham)

“Mitchell has been unbelievable,” longtime Knights Coach Doug Case told The Epoch Times. “One guy can’t take him down too many times. He just keeps those legs pumping. He’s not huge in stature but he’s powerful. I talked to him and said, ‘If we’re going to do something in playoffs, we have to put some of this weight on your shoulders.’ He did a great job.”
Foothill’s defense was also a key against a talented Aquinas team, and figures to be critical if the Knights’ playoff run is to extend into next week’s CIF semifinals and perhaps beyond.
Challenged by an Aquinas offense featuring talented junior quarterback Malachi Jones and outstanding senior wide receiver Yaqiym Halliburton, Foothill came up with three huge fourth-down stops, as well as a key interception by senior cornerback William May.
“We’ve had our struggles this year defensively,” Mr. Case said. “They are a very explosive team. They have some guys that are going to be playing in college. I challenged my defense. I said, ‘Hey, if we’re going to be champions, we have to play championship defense.’ The kids really rose up, understood their assignments, and really had some great stops.”
Mr. Case pointed to a linebacking corps of seniors Preston Raymond and C.J. Sims, and junior Brady Holcomb, as well as senior safety Bode Jellerson, as keys to a defensive unit that made great strides after a 45-29 loss to rival Yorba Linda the previous week.
Coach Doug Case talks to Foothill High School’s football players in a recent game. (Courtesy of Gary Cunningham)

Coach Doug Case talks to Foothill High School’s football players in a recent game. (Courtesy of Gary Cunningham)

“The last game against Yorba Linda, our defense definitely underperformed a little bit,” Jellerson told The Epoch Times. “We definitely took that on our chin. We showed up [against Aquinas] and wanted to make sure we performed, especially when it comes to playoffs.”
The loss to Yorba Linda cost the Knights an undisputed Crestview League championship, leaving Foothill, Yorba Linda, and Villa Park all with 2-1 league records. There might, however, have been another, more favorable consequence for the Knights, who finished the regular season 6-4 overall.
“Even when you lose, sometimes you get a little better,” Mr. Case said. “I hate losing, but if it gets you better for the playoffs, then we’ll take it. The kids just keep maturing. They keep growing.”
The big plays that had been lacking for Foothill much of the season were not limited to the defense against Aquinas. Special teams also played a big role, with the recovery of an Aquinas fumble on the game’s opening kickoff leading to Mitchell’s first touchdown, a 3-yard scamper, and senior Tyler Hymel later booming a 64-yard punt.
Senior running back Aaron Mitchell (No. 2) runs with the ball for Foothill High School’s football team in a recent game. (Courtesy of Gary Cunningham)

Senior running back Aaron Mitchell (No. 2) runs with the ball for Foothill High School’s football team in a recent game. (Courtesy of Gary Cunningham)

With Mitchell carrying much of the offensive load, 6-6, 210-pound senior quarterback Nicholas Miali threw only 12 passes. Against a different opponent, however, Miali might need to significantly increase his already impressive season totals of 63 percent passing, 2,042 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“It’s just a team player-kind of thing,” Mitchell said. “If I’m working and I’m doing well, then so be it, and we keep doing that. But if the quarterback’s throwing touchdowns, let him throw everything.”
The Knights, who expect to get senior tight end David Man back from the injured list this week, are anticipating another stiff test.
Newbury Park, 8-3 overall, went 5-1 and won a tri-championship in the Canyon League. And quarterback Brady Smigiel, a 6-4, 205-pound sophomore, has put up eye-popping numbers, throwing for 3,094 yards and 42 touchdowns.
“Our coaches do an amazing job breaking down film, finding out tendencies,” Jellerson said. “At this point in the season, we’ve seen all kinds of offenses so it’s not too difficult to adapt to whatever they’re throwing at us. What it comes down to is which team performs better and has the least amount of mistakes on the night that we play under the lights.”
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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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