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Top 10 Southern California high school football games to watch this week (Sep. 29 - Oct. 1)

Friday's battle between arch rivals Cathedral Catholic and Lincoln may be the San Diego Section game of the year

It's the seventh week of the season in California high school football, and you (probably) know that means: the start of league play throughout much of SoCal. 

This week brings a particularly big conference game in both the L.A. City and San Diego Sections, in addition to countless important league games throughout the CIFSS. Here's a look at the top 10 games to watch in SoCal high school football in the week of Sep. 29 - Oct. 1.

FULL SECTION SCHEDULES: SOUTHERN | LA CITY | SAN DIEGO

TOP 10 SOCAL FOOTBALL GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:

(Games are 7 p.m. Friday unless noted.)

10. El Modena at Villa Park – Thursday at 7 p.m.

These teams, in neighboring neighborhoods, have played each other just about every season for decades on end. Much of that time they've spent in the same league, and a lot of it they haven't. Now that ElMo switched to the North Hills League for this year, it doesn't have league implications in 2022.

So, what makes the matchup so exciting this year? The Vanguards haven't beaten VP since 2007, but they enter Thursday as the heavy favorite. They almost got Villa Park last year but fell 31-28. Unbeaten El Modena looks even better this year than last, but the Spartans were very senior-heavy last fall and are starting almost exclusively underclassmen. As a result, they have not been on the same level this season. They'll need to bring their A-game on Thursday to have a chance at staving off revenge from a program that's been waiting 15 years for it.

9. Chaminade at Alemany

Admittedly, it's hard to give Alemany a chance here after the news broke that QB CJ Ceron is out for the season. Chaminade has been so good in 2022 that the Warriors would've come in as a massive underdog anyway. But the point here was going to be that Alemany has been much better this year than most anticipated, and not a lot of people are yet to realize it. If they can find another gear somehow with the junior dual-threat signal caller out, they could at least make it interesting against 'Nade. 

8. Apple Valley at Serrano – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Apple-Valley-Rancho-Cucamonga8

Like many other games in this week's list, this battle features a heavy favorite and major underdog but is still intriguing. While Apple Valley's injury-laden underdog run to the CIFSS D3 finals is what made the most noise, the Diamondbacks are coming off a Division 8 title and are 5-0. It's not lost on the Sun Devils that Serrano won a CIF ring last season and they didn't, so despite beating Serrano 47-13 last season, this isn't a matchup they're taking lightly.

7. Damien at Upland

It's dire straits for the Spartans right now. While every one of their losses have come to a great team, and mostly in very close games, they're 1-5 heading into league play. For a team that went 0-4 in league play last year, that's especially bad news. And now, the team has made headlines in the wrong way following an altercation after last week's blowout loss against Bishop Amat.

So, a win this week could not come at a better time. And no matter what Damien's record says, they will have a legitimate chance to upset the Highlanders if they bring their A-game. Upland is off to a very good 4-2 start, and really put it together a couple weeks ago in a head-turning 45-20 win against Aquinas. With the Highlanders' track record, there's an expectation of being at or near the top of the Baseline League every season. That makes this a must-win for both teams.

6. Rancho Buena Vista at Ramona

It's safe to say the Bulldogs' Valley League opener last game out did not go how they had in mind. They entered conference play as the favorite, but might already be out of the running after Fallbrook upset them by three scores. Ramona has since had a bye week to think about it and rest up, but it probably won't get any easier this week against the Longhorns.

Meanwhile, Rancho Buena Vista is off to a hot 5-1 start despite getting smoked by Mt. Carmel in its non-league finale, and is also title-minded. The Longhorns can put Ramona's league title hopes completely to rest with a win on Friday. But if Ramona wins and both of these teams have one league loss, both will have some hope, as there's at least a chance that someone else in league knocks off Fallbrook and there's a tie at the top.

5. Bishop Amat at Sierra Canyon

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Speaking of Bishop Amat, they too are looking to put last week's controversy behind them with another big win. And it coincides with SC's long-awaited Mission League debut. To be honest, this game wouldn't crack the top 10 if it weren't a landmark moment for the Trailblazers, as they've been down this year while Amat has been untouchable against everyone but St. John Bosco. However, because it's a historic game, and because Sierra Canyon has so much pedigree built up over the last five years or so that they might have another gear to hit, it's too intriguing to ignore.

4. Bishop Diego at St. Bonaventure

Speaking of debuts in new leagues, this is Bishop Diego's first game in the Marmonte League. So, is this the Marmonte League championship game? Honestly, who knows? Simi Valley entered the season as the favorite and Oaks Christian has built a case as the favorite, but both of these teams are fully in the mix. 

The Cardinals didn't play one Southern Section opponent until last week, when they picked up an impressive 26-6 win against St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy. Before that, they fell narrowly to Central Section powerhouse Central (Fresno) and rolled against Capital Christian, Righetti, and Garces Memorial. Meanwhile, the Seraphs' 2-3 record makes them look like an underdog, but that's a stretch. Their losses came to Inglewood, Lincoln (San Diego), and Oak Hills, and all of them were competitive games. 

So, this one should be a tossup. And as a bonus, it could be one of the best running back battles of the year as well, featuring Bishop Diego's Qu'Ran Gossett and St. Bonaventure's Delon Thompson. 

3. Santa Margarita at Orange Lutheran

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Unlike the other games in the top nine this week, this matchup has no bearing on a league title race. But wins of any kind aren't exactly easy to come by in the Trinity League, so let's just say the stakes are high. And history says this could be one of the best games of the year.

The last time these opponents met and it was not a great game was 2016, when the Eagles won 23-7. They won 38-31 in 2017 before OLu won 39-37 in 2018. Orange Lutheran won 28-14 in 2019, but despite the score, the game was not decided until the final couple minutes. During the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, the Lancers had to cancel what was again one of the more highly-anticipated games of the season, in which they would've been a light underdog. Santa Margarita got back on top last season in one of their best matchups yet, a 35-28 comeback victory won on a touchdown in the final minute.

This time, the Eagles are a little bit heavier of a favorite than last year, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them run away with a win. But if the Lancers can play one of their best games of the season, they could give SM a run for its money and possibly pull out an enormous win. No matter what, it's hard to imagine this game isn't one of the better ones of the week to watch.

2. Franklin (Los Angeles) at Eagle Rock – Friday at 7:30 p.m.

A conference title game between two evenly-matched and unbeaten rivals looking to prove themselves as LACS' Open Division title contenders? That may be a mouthful, but what more could you ask for?

Both of these squads look formidable in 2022, and despite the fact that Lincoln topped them both for a league championship last season, this should be the Northern League title game. It should come down to the wire on Friday, but if one team can rack up a major statement win, it'll be fair to call them one of the top frontrunners to make a City Section finals run.

1. Lincoln (San Diego) vs. Cathedral Catholic (at Mira Mesa)

Let's be honest – sometimes rivalries are more fun when there's no love lost between the participants. 

The upper ranks of California high school football have many leagues where the best teams aren't traditional rivals but they regularly have to go through each other, and thus end up as de facto rivals without actual fire in the rivalry. Oftentimes, those programs end up as friends for the 364 days a year they don't play each other.

But this isn't that. This rivalry is so fiery that in any year where the two teams are fairly even, it's automatically one of the most exciting games of the year. And this year, Lincoln has more than just a puncher's chance to knock off the juggernaut. To top it off, this battle may decide the Western League and could very well be a preview of the San Diego Section Open Division finals. So grab your popcorn.

MORE GAMES TO WATCH:

In any given week of California high school football, there are dozens of great games to watch between top programs. Here are some other exciting SoCal matchups happening this week:

Murrieta Valley at Roosevelt (Eastvale)

Vista Murrieta at Norco

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Long Beach Poly at Millikan

Citrus Valley at Beaumont

Yorba Linda at El Dorado (Placentia)

Mayfair at Warren

Calabasas at Oaks Christian

Golden Valley (Santa Clarita) at Valencia (Valencia)

Carson at Banning (Wilmington)

El Camino Real at Cleveland

La Costa Canyon at El Camino

San Juan Hills at Tesoro

Simi Valley at Westlake

Moorpark at Newbury Park

Del Norte (San Diego) at Poway

Rio Mesa at Buena

Mira Mesa at Madison

Camarillo at El Toro

Foothill (Santa Ana) at Canyon (Anaheim)

Mater Dei Catholic at Central (El Centro)

Etiwanda at Chino Hills

Narbonne at Gardena

J.W. North at Orange Vista

Culver City at Mira Costa

Carlsbad at Torrey Pines

Loyola at St. Paul

Thousand Oaks at Royal

Westchester at Hamilton (L.A.)

M.L. King at Great Oak

Bonita at Northview

St. Augustine at Scripps Ranch

King/Drew at Dorsey