A large crowd is expected at Paloma Valley High School tonight at 7 for the Menifee Bowl -- the annual Sunbelt League football game between Menifee high schools Paloma Valley and Heritage.
Gates will open at 5 p.m. for the game, which matches teams that are 2-0 in league play but have much more at stake than that.
Host Paloma Valley is 7-0 this season. The Wildcats are averaging 48.7 points per game and are ranked No. 3 in the CIF-SS Central Division.
The opposing coaches refuse to get caught up in those numbers, however. They are focused on one thing: Getting the best possible performance out of their teams tonight.
"I don't think the 3-0 against them factors into this at all," said Heritage coach Kraig Broach. "Things like that have no bearing from year to year. Both of us are completely different teams from last year."
Paloma Valley coach Bert Esposito agrees.
"A bid for a perfect record is not a factor at all for us," he said. "To have a perfect season, I think it takes things to happen that are out of your hands, so to speak. There are so many things that have to go right that it really is just icing on the cake and a gift to be had. We always want to win every game we play and that is all we concentrate on."
Paloma Valley is led by senior quarterback and three-year starter Brent Boehm, who has passed for 1,513 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. His top receivers are RJ Benz (24 catches, 355 yards, 5 TDs) and Michael Valencia (20 catches, 422 yards, 12 TDs). The Wildcats' leading rusher is sophomore Demarco Prewitt, who has carried the ball 75 times for 730 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Heritage's offensive attack is led by running backs Limihai Hifo (68 carries, 672 yards, 9 TDs), Isaiah Morrow (40 carries, 396 yards, 3 TDs) and Sione Takitaki (42 carries, 334 yards, 4 TDs). Sophomore quarterback Brett Virgil has passed for 637 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Although the game carries the usual hype of a crosstown rivalry, players and coaches on both sides insist it is a friendly rivalry. Many of the players competed together in youth football before going their separate ways in high school.
"These kids all see each other at In-n-Out every Friday night after the games," Broach said. "They all know each other and they're friends outside the game."
"We try to just look at it as another game," Wildcats quarterback Boehm said. "It's another week we need to pick up a big win."
The game figures to be a contrast in styles, with Paloma's passing attack leading the way and Heritage relying more on the running game. Anything could happen, however.
"Obviously, both teams have outstanding offenses in clashing styles to each other," Esposito said. "That being said, I think that the team that plays the best defense will win. It seems on the outside that it will be high-scoring game, but you just never know."
Each team has one significant injury going into the game. Paloma Valley running back Elliott Smith is out for the season with a leg injury. Heritage offensive lineman Niko Gomez has missed two games with a leg injury and is questionable for tonight's game.
At halftime, the winners of Menifee 24/7's "Proud of My High School" essay contest will be introduced on the field. One winner from each school will receive a $50 VISA gift card.