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October 12, 2011

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

The top teams in California are in an unusual position after eight weeks of the high school football season.

They are all but out of the national championship chase.

Out-of-state losses in an in-state upsets have left the state - typically regarding as one of the three power places in the country - on the outside of the Top 25.

But if you ask those in the know in the Golden State, the tale of California's demise has been greatly exaggerated. There is still plenty of top quality football being played, including this week's RivalsHigh Game of the Week featuring No. 26 Anaheim (Calif.) Servite and No. 72 Orange (Calif.) Lutheran.

"Those (out-of-state) games do not diminish what is being done inside California," Lutheran coach Jim Kunau said. "It simply means that those teams have improved. Some of those other states just have dominant teams and I think we are having the type of season that there are more quality programs and a lot of teams having good, but maybe not great, seasons."

Thus far, Lutheran is bucking the trend and having a great year.

After consecutive five-loss seasons, Lutheran is unbeaten at 5-0 and holds a rare quality out-of-state victory as it manhandled South Jordan (Utah) Bingham, a defending state champ, 42-7, in its opener.

And, with the Servite game signaling the start of the always tough Trinity League season, Kunau knows there are still plenty of rewards out there, including a CIF bowl berth.

"We have to embrace these opportunities," Kunau said. "Fortunately for us and for Servite, both teams are accustomed to playing in big games."

Servite moved up the rankings by starting its season a few hard-fought victories over quality opponents, but it suffered a setback on national television against Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman in its last game, 31-28.

"It was a tough loss for them," Kunau said. "I watched that game and thought they played well enough and maybe deserved to win."

The victory over Servite legitimized Gorman as a Top-Ten team. Kunau is looking for a similar reward.

"I think it is obvious that they are the solid favorite entering the game," Kunau said. "But I do not think we need to do anything extraordinary to win. We need to be ready for a physical game and eliminate turnovers.

"If we are able to get a win over Servite I think it will prove to others what kind of team we think we have. We expect to come out and play well. We have good team chemistry and unity right now."

The game could come down to quarterback play.

Last year, Orange Luthern had five interceptions in a 31-13 loss.

Kunau said that can not happen again if the team expects to win.

"We need to protect the ball," he said. "With the job that Coach (Troy) Thomas has done over there with their strength and fundamentals giving them extra opportunities is not the way to get a win."

So far this season Lancer quarterback Conner Sullivan has been efficient. He has completed 73 percent of his passes and has thrown 11 touchdowns versus just two interceptions.

The Duke baseball commit has the confidence of his coach and teammates.

"He has been tremendous," Kunau said. "Running, throwing, the whole package. He is headed to Duke so I think that speaks to his intelligence."

Sullivan will have to outplay a proven commodity in Servite senior signal-caller Cody Pittman.

Pittman has been the focus of opposing defenses all season and earned the respect of Bishop Gorman coach, Tony Sanchez.

"If he were a little taller I think a lot of colleges would be looking at him and he would be more well known," Sanchez said. "He is a solid football player and keeps a lot of plays alive."

Pittman has helped lead the Friars into the national rankings in his time as a starter and took the team to a CIF Open Division Bowl game last season.

The goal of a CIF Bowl is still alive for both teams.

"Servite is our second biggest rival (to Mater Dei)," Kunau said. "And I think we are their second biggest rival, so it will not take much coaching to get these kids excited to play the game.

"Anytime you go to Servite you have to be ready for a fight."

National GOTW
No. 26 Servite vs. No. 72 Lutheran

QB Cody Pittman (5-11/182, Sr.)
LB Butch Pauu (6-1/215, Sr.)
OL Travis Averill (6-4/270, Sr.)
TE Christo Kourtzidis (6-4/230, Sr.)
LB Deion Williams (5-11/205, Sr.)
DB Darien Washington (5-11/175, Sr.)

When: Friday Sept. 14, 7:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: Nov. 12, 2010 - Servite won, 31-13.
Rankings: Servite (4-1), No. 1 in California
Orange Lutheran (5-0), No. 8 in California

Servite wins if: It dictates the physicality in the game. Being stronger and more conditioned has been a major point of emphasis in Troy Thomas' time at Servite and it has shown to pay major dividends on the field. The team has suffered through lingering injuries to key players and it has been battle-tested waiting for the running back group to heal. If the offensive line and the defensive front seven can muscle up in this contest, Servite should come out the victor.

Orange Lutheran wins if: It is able to exploit the passing game. The team was able to rest its best running back - Jabari Wilson - last week and that will help the team remain balanced. But it will need to be able to go to the air and soften the defensive pursuit before it can start running effectively. If Sullivan is able to complete two-thirds of his passes on the night, that will be a good indicator of success for Lutheran. If he is closer to half of his passes hitting the ground with multiple interceptions, it will be a long evening.

Prediction: Orange Lutheran has been riding high after its win over Bingham and has padded a lot of stats against inferior competition while Servite has been battle tested with a list of quality opponents to open the season. Servite is still running with nagging injuries but coming off a bye week and a loss there will be plenty of motivation to get back into the win column and flex its muscle.
- Servite 27, Lutheran 20.

Game of the Week Predictions: 6-2 (10-5 in '10, '09, and '08)

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