Judging by its first result of 2017, competing for a Pacific League title seemed an unlikely scenario for the Hancock College football team.
The Bulldogs problems on both sides of the ball in a 21-6 loss at Bakersfield on opening week. Yet, here they are with two games left in the regular season competing for a Pacific League title.
Hancock (6-2, 3-0) and Antelope Valley (5-3, 3-0) will go at it at 6 p.m. Saturday night at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster with first place on the line. The winner will clinch the Pacific League title outright if it wins its regular season finale the following week.
For Hancock, which is ranked 21st in the Southern California Football Association, that regular season finale will be at 2 p.m. Nov. 11 at home against Citrus.
Everyone else in the league has at least two league losses at this point, so the Hancock-AVC winner tonight will, at the least, wrap up the top league seed for bowl consideration.
Here's a look at what might turn the game.
The rushing game: Hancock is at its accustomed spot, at the top of the league. The Bulldogs are averaging more than 313 yards a game rushing in conference games.
Ryheem Skinner, the Southern California Football Association pick for Week Nine Offensive Player of the Week thanks in part to his three rushing touchdowns in a 44-34 win at Los Angeles PIerce College, averages nearly 99 yards a game, second best in the conference. Damon Whitmill Jr.. averages just over 58 yards a game on the ground.
Can the Marauders counter? Possibly. Antelope Valley's run defense has been pretty good, allowing just over 100 yards a game. However, the Bulldogs have bruised good run defenses with their rushing game before.
As for Antelope Valley's rushing game, it's produced a decent 126-plus yards a game. Hancock's rushing defense has allowed a shade under 64 yards a game, but the Bulldogs have had some trouble with workhorse opposing backs this season and AVC's D.J. Payne is third in the league at 89.1 yards a game rushing.
The passing game: When the Bulldogs have sacked the opposing quarterback - they lead the state in sacks with 38, and Osa Omokaro has 10 sacks himself - their pass defense has been fine. When the opposing quarterback gets the ball in the air, the Bulldogs have often struggled in league play.
Hancock beat L.A. Pierce despite being out-gained 541-381, and 439 of the Brahmas' yards came through the air. AVC quarterack Armani Edden leads the league in touchdown passes with 16.
Good receivers from other teams have often been a handful for the Bulldogs' secondary, and AVC's Jordan Wayne and John Johnson are 1-2 in the league in reception yardage per game. Johnson leads in touchdown catches with seven.
Hancock linebacker Basiru Jobe has been a nightmare for opposing offenses. He leads the league in tackles per game with nine.
The kicking game: With Jordan Pollard, it's advantage Hancock here. Pollard was the SCFA's Week Nine Special Teams Player of the Week for kicking three field goals at L.A. Pierce.
Ironically, he's been about as good on field goals as he has been on PAT kicks. He's 11-for-15 on the former and 21-for-28 on the latter.
Which team figures to have the toughest time getting out of its own way? That would be Hancock. The penalty parade against Hancock has slowed some since league play began. Still, the Bulldogs average 80 yards a game in penalty yardage against them.
They have shrugged off a load of penalties against them before. If they're besieged by a barrage of yellow flags at key points this time, there's a good chance the Bulldogs will find themselves on the short end of the final score.
Women's cross country
Southern California Regional Championships
SANTA CLARITA - Hancock College sophomore Brianna Magana qualified for the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Women's Cross Country State Championships, finishing 73rd in a field of 189 runners.
Magana ran the 5K course at Central Park in 21 minutes, 35.51 seconds. She finished 68th for team scoring purposes. Magana is the first Hancock women's runner to qualify for the state meet in eight years.
Hancock finished 26th in a field of 27 teams. The Bulldogs were making their first team appearance in the Southern Cal regional meet in eight years.
Teammates following Magana were Alina Delabra (124th place for team scoring, 139th overall), Maria Uvalle (133rd for team scoring, 149th overall), Yadira Castellanos (154th for team scoring, 171st overall) and Mireya Lopez Martinez (162nd for team scoring, 179th overall).
The state championship meet will take place Nov. 18 at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Brenda Rosales of Los Angeles Harbor College won the race at the Southern Cal regional meet in 18:39.56. Mount San Antonio College won the team championship with 78 points. Ventura finished second with 94.