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September 28, 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.

Credibility is an interesting thing. It is so hard to gain and so easy to lose.

For the football programs at Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman and Anaheim (Calif.) Servite, this is not news.

Two programs that have similar levels of success in the last three seasons have altogether different levels of national cache; when the teams meet on the field Friday night in Las Vegas, it will help clear the national perception.

The game will be aired on national television for all high school football fans to see and it will be the RivalsHigh Game of the Week.

"We live in an immediate media world," Bishop Gorman head coach Tony Sanchez said. "The biggest game for our program was the [Scottsdale (Ariz.)] Chaparral game because we never won a major out-of-state game; then we did. Then the biggest game for our program was against [Seffner (Fla.)] Armwood because people thought we couldn't play with teams from Florida; then we did. Now this is the biggest game for our program because Servite has been having a lot of success in California.

"We don't like to think of a single game as a pivotal point in our season because when this game is over that attention will die out. And if we win this game but lose focus on winning a state title, what will that mean for us? They are all important games."

It's unclear if beating Servite but then failing to win a state title in Nevada would cost Bishop Gorman in national perception. But this is certain, winning state titles without winning big out-of-state games will no longer give the school a boost.

The run of success that Servite has had in California - a run that includes a 2009 California Division II Bowl victory and No. 6 ranking in the RivalsHigh 100 as well as an Open Division Bowl loss and No. 31 national ranking in 2010 - has helped elevate this once struggling program back to relevance. It is ranked No. 38 in this week's RivalsHigh 100.

It has been a resurgence that Orange County Register preps reporter Steve Fryer has seen first hand - not only as a journalist but as a father; his son was a junior offensive lineman on current head coach Troy Thomas' first year with the program.

"This program really fell off in the 1990s and 2000s," Fryer said. "(Coach Thomas) was a perfect fit when he took over. He kept a lot of the Servite traditions of community service and his energy was infectious. The quality of play certainly picked up on the field."

The Friars enter the contest with a blemish free 4-0 record with wins over four quality opponents: Oceanside (Calif.) High, La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat, La Habra (Calif.) High and Huntington Beach (Calif.) Edison.

But the team will enter the game with more than just its own perception on the line. Many top Southern California football teams have had poor results in out-of-state games.

Mission Viejo (Calif.) High suffered a 35-7 loss to Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco and Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian fell 31-21 to Bellevue (Wash.) High. Last weekend, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle was handled by Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas.

The potential to tarnish the perception of Orange County football is not lost on Fryer.

"The quality of football is OK this year," he said. "It doesn't look good with the way Mission (Viejo) was beaten by Don Bosco, but we have quality programs here."

Servite leads the way, but its Trinity League opponents are ready to knock down the door if it stumbles. Orange (Calif.) Lutheran, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei and Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita have all been in consideration for RivalsHigh 100 placement.

The quality competition Servite will face is a luxury that Bishop Gorman does not have, which makes this game all the more important for the Nevada private school power.

"We haven't had our starters play four quarters of football since the Armwood game," Sanchez said. "So that is four games of only playing through the first drive of the second half."

The Gaels, No. 8 this week, have beaten their four in-state opponents by a combined score of 244-13.

"Regardless of how we do in Nevada, we will get judged by these out-of-state games," Sanchez said. "There are some good teams in this state, but nationally many people don't know that. We would love to go out and get a 'W' this week, but if we don't, I hope that people see that we can play with anyone in the country.

"I think we have done enough already this season with our other performances to quiet some critics, we beat Chaparral and we didn't punt in the second half against Armwood and nearly knocked them off. Servite is another chance to showcase our program."

Beating Servite has been difficult of late. The team has won 28 of its last 30 games.

"They win a lot of ugly games," Fryer said. "But they are winning and that is what counts."

Sanchez thinks that the two teams appear to match up very well and thinks the game could go either way.

"We have their first four games on tape and they have our first two," he said. "I think we can win this game; I think they can win this game.

"For us to do it, we have to stop their quarterback, Cody Pittman. If he were a little taller I think a lot of colleges would be looking at him and he would be more well known. He is a solid football player and keeps a lot of plays alive so we need to stay in our rush lanes.

"And we are no mystery. We want to be balanced. They are going to line up in a 4-2 front with a little shift on the line so we have to get our running game going early and make them move to an eight man box to open the pass."

With two teams grounded in fundamentals, the game is expected to be close. Whether it is or not will go a long way toward building or tearing down credibility.

National GOTW
No. 7 Bishop Gorman vs. No. 38 Servite
OL Ronnie Stanley (6-7/285, Sr.)
OL Ron Scoggins (6-3/304, Sr.)
DB Marc Philippi (5-11/209, Sr.)
QB Jarrett Solomon (6-0/202, Jr.)
QB Cody Pittman (5-11/182, Sr.)
LB Butch Pauu (6-1/215, Sr.)
OL Travis Averill (6-4/270, Sr.)

When: Friday Sept. 30, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: First-ever meeting
Ranking: Bishop Gorman (5-1), No. 1 in Nevada
Servite (4-0), No. 3 in California

Bishop Gorman wins if: It can start quickly. The Gaels were slow to get the offense in gear against Chaparral and Armwood, barely moving the ball in the first half of either game, then coming out furiously fast in the second half. That will not fly against Servite. The offensive line will need to come out angry and QB Jarrett Solomon will have to do a better job of completing passes early in the game. If the Gaels do not have at least 14 points by halftime, they may have a hard time winning.

Servite wins if: It can effectively use its bubble-screen. The Friars have had good success creating big plays by getting its receivers in space quickly. If they can work in their slip screens, bubble screens and jailbreak screens, it could start putting Bishop Gorman on its heels defensively. Servite then can begin pounding the ball against the softened up front and buy more time for Cody Pittman.

Prediction: This should be a fairly well-balanced game with neither team running away from the other. If it does become a blowout, it would seem that it would be Gorman on the runaway end with a more explosive offensive attack. Servite, however, is so fundamentally sound on defense such an outcome appears unlikely. If this game comes down to the end, Servite has more battle-tested snaps on its resume than Bishop Gorman and conditioning could become a factor. All that said, we feel talent will win out.
- Bishop Gorman 24, Servite 16

Game of the Week Predictions: 4-2 (10-5 in '10, '09, and '08)

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