NEWPORT COAST — Leave it to Sage Hill School head coach and former NFL wide receiver JR Tolver to put a silver lining on a tough season.
After Friday's 46-0 loss to Las Vegas Division III power Mountain View Christian – think of it as Estancia or a smaller version of Newport Harbor playing against the Lightning – Tolver still kept his players focusing on the big picture.
Despite an 0-7 record – eight straight losses dating to last season – Academy League play still does not begin until Oct. 18 against Brethren Christian at Ocean View, after a much-needed bye week.
"Everything's in front of us," Tolver said in a post-game huddle on the field. "An Academy League championship, CIF championship, hanging a banner in the gym."
The Saints (6-1), who were the state runners-up in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Assn. playoffs, also reached the postseason's first round last season.
A key indication of its offensive dominance? Only four passes were attempted, as they racked up 363 rushing yards.
While it may be a big challenge playing against teams like Brethren Christian and perennial league champion St. Margaret's, credit Tolver for keeping his players thinking positive, despite getting shut out for the second time this season and losing by an average of more than 30 points per game.
Sage Hill's receivers had eight drops and, on defense, had trouble bringing down bigger or quicker running backs. Sophomore quarterback CJ McCord, whose passes were mostly on target, went six for 18 with 52 yards, while running back Joe Melita ran for 70 yards on nine carries.
"We just gotta make plays," Tolver said. "The thing is we're not doing enough things in order to be successful. We had missed tackles, we were not making catches … consistency's a choice, a decision they've got to make. We take turns making a play here and then making some mistakes there."
Friday's game came down to a workhorse of a running back in Saints junior Matthew Larson dragging three, four and sometimes more defenders on his way to rushing for 188 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries.
Larson, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound back who was on that state runner-up team two seasons ago, ran for 101 yards with five minutes left in the first half, on his 14th carry. He could've broken the 200-yard mark, if he had been allowed to play more in the fourth quarter.
"This is one of my best games I've had," Larson said. "I kept running harder as the game went on. I think we can do just fine, we just have to keep playing better. My linemen and perimeter blockers opened up the holes for me and I ran it right through."
McCord, who sat out four games this season with a broken elbow and played only his third game in his first season as a varsity starter, showed promising signs he could be a solid player for the next two-plus seasons. Some of his passes were well off target. But for the most part, if his receivers had caught even half his passes, he would've had a big day and possibly a touchdown drive. One bright spot was he went three for four in the fourth quarter, against a mix of backups and starters on the MVC defense.
"I could just be better," McCord said. "My throws were better in the fourth quarter. We have to start out with the same intensity we did in the fourth quarter in the first quarter."
Mountain View Christian 46, Sage Hill 0
SCORE BY QUARTERS
MVC 7 – 19 – 20 – 0 — 46
Sage 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 — 0