Entering Week 9 of the season, five high school football teams remain undefeated.
With top-ranked Helix, Cathedral Catholic and St. Augustine stubbing a toe early in the season, the five unbeatens aren’t who you might think.
The last five standing are Castle Park, Scripps Ranch, Steele Canyon, Santana and Bishop’s.
Castle Park (7-0), a Division V team, was 0-10 in 2017 before going 6-5 last season, then bringing in 35-year-old Chris Livesay as coach.
“Coaching has been the key,” said Trojans junior running back Erik Hernandez. “The coaches have switched up how things are done.
“There is an emphasis on team, more bonding. We were tired of that horrible losing feeling.”
The Trojans have seven sophomores, 24 juniors and only eight seniors on the roster.
More than 100 students were cleared for football, 70 got equipment. There are now 55 in the program.
“This is a school that forfeited two games last season because it didn’t have enough players,” Livesay said. “And we only had 13 kids out for spring ball. Three starters from last year didn’t even come out.
“So we recruited our own campus, and the junior class bought in, decided it was time to turn this around.
“Still, we had a quarterback who had never played quarterback.
“Honestly, we just showed these kids the way. They’ve taken the ball and run with it.”
Castle Park has had one unbeaten season, going 13-0 in 1996 and beating Carlsbad in Jack Murphy Stadium to win a San Diego Section championship.
How hard is it to finish a season without a loss?
With research help from prep historian Rick Smith of Partleton Sports, just 65 teams have gone unbeaten since local play started in the 1890s. Only 44 of those had no tie to blemish their record.
That covers nearly 48,000 games.
The last section team to go through a season unbeaten was Cathedral Catholic, which went 15-0 in 2016.
Scripps Ranch (7-0)
The Falcons are currently the No. 1 seed in Division III.
Since Scripps Ranch opened in 1993, no Falcons team has won more than eight games in a season. The 1995 and 2008 squads hit that mark.
The Falcons have had a losing record in six of the last eight seasons.
Coach Marlon Gardinera turned that around, going 6-5 last season, his second in charge.
The defense has been rock solid this season, allowing just 37 points with shutouts of Serra, Fallbrook and Crawford.
Mira Mesa and La Jolla were held to seven points.
Quarterback Luke Durkin has thrown for 1,250 yards and running back Nicholas Gardinera is a force with 1,063 yards total offense — 935 rushing.
Steele Canyon (7-0)
The Cougars are ranked No. 5 in the section but still must face Grossmont and Helix.
“Valhalla is what’s next, and that’s our focus,” Steele Canyon coach Scott Longerbone said of tonight’s matchup for the Jamacha Helmet. “Valhalla is a rivalry game. .. We’re looking at this as a trap game.”
The Cougars have never started a season 8-0. When the team won a state championship in 2017, Steele Canyon was 12-4.
Longerbone didn’t see this kind of a season coming. He hadn’t settled on a starting quarterback until a week before the first game. Four offensive linemen had never started a varsity game.
“We knew the defense had a chance to be special,” Longerbone said of a unit that returned four players from the state championship team and has allowed just 66 points all season.
“But the offense has responded.
“We spend 30-40 minutes at each practice on special teams and that shows with Chance Johnson and Christopher Carter returning punts for touchdowns.”
With the promise of a Chinese buffet for the special teams players if the unit scores, the Cougars have hit Longerbone’s wallet.
“This is a very easy team to coach,” the coach said.
And, remember, Steele Canyon beat Helix last season.
The Sultans also have never had an unbeaten season.
Santana started the 1999 season 11-0 before losing to Oceanside in the playoff semifinals.
“We had a nice run in 2011 (going 11-2), and this team is similar to that,” said Santana coach Tim Estes.
“We had 27 seniors back from last year’s 7-6 team, so we thought we had a chance to jell into a pretty good team.
“And the juniors have stepped up. I’ve been around teams where the classes don’t mesh, so this has been great.
“Our goal since spring was championships — league, CIF and state. And the kids have taken care of business on the field and in the classroom.
“We didn’t lose one kid to eligibility at grade check, and we got ineligible guys back who stuck with it.
“These guys welcome being unbeaten. All season we’ve said 5-0 is better than 4-1 — 8-0 sure beats the alternative.”
Quarterback Nathan Temple missed part of last season with a broken collarbone. Having him healthy has been a big boost.
Kicker-receiver Nathan Hughes has been key and the defense — led by Michael Richter — has allowed just 66 points.
Unbeaten seasons are nothing new at Bishop’s.
The Knights were 13-0 in 1996 and ’97, 12-0 in 2007, 14-0 in 2010 and 13-0 in 2014.
Plus, they won 14 in a row in 2016 before losing to Oakdale in a state championship game.
And while Bishop’s is the No. 1 seed for the Division II playoffs, quarterback Tyler Buchner said the Knights take nothing for granted.
“It’s big that we’re unbeaten, but it’s what we expected,” said Buchner, who has committed to play at Notre Dame. “We have high standards here.
“The hope was 10-0 to end the regular season, but we still have to get by a really good Santa Fe Christian team.
“And there are some really good teams (Christian, Santa Fe Christian, Vista, San Pasqual, Otay Ranch, Poway, El Camino) in Division II.
“We’re confident without being cocky.
“And, honestly, we prepare for every team like they’re the New England Patriots.”
Five football teams in the San Diego Section are undefeated:
Opponents’ record: 22-28
Remaining opponents: 13-8
Opponents’ record: 8-37
Remaining opponents: 10-11
Opponents’ record: 29-28
Remaining opponents: 6-8
Opponents’ record: 17-33
Remaining opponents: 14-7
Opponents’ record: 18-33
Remaining opponents: 15-6
Three eight-man teams in the section also are undefeated — Foothills Christian (7-0), San Diego Jewish (5-0) and San Pasqual Academy (6-0).