Saturday afternoon, Hancock College will go after its first outright league championship since 1997.
To get it, the Bulldogs will have to go through a stout Citrus College defense. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Hancock.
Hancock (7-2, 4-0) has already clinched a share of the Pacific League championship, its first share of a league title since 2000 and its first under 17th-year coach Kris Dutra.
The Bulldogs will be in a bowl game — they'll find out when, where and against whom when the pairings come out Sunday — for the first time since Hancock routed East Los Angeles College 58-11 in the 2011 Western State Conference Bowl.
Citrus is 3-6, 2-2. That doesn't mean it has no chance to be a formidable opponent for Hancock. The Owls have won two straight (the Bulldogs have won four in a row), and opponents have had a hard time scoring against them.
The Owls give up an average of just over 16 points a game. The Bulldogs, whose defense has been the biggest reason for their success this year, gives up 18-plus points a game, though that stat is skewed by a 44-34 league win over Los Angeles Pierce College.
The Brahmas scored five of the seven touchdowns the Bulldogs have allowed in league play.
Hancock has scored much more than Citrus has, 30 points a game to 15. Seven of the Owls' nine games have been decided by seven points or less, and they are 2-5 in those.
Both teams have shown a knack for getting after the quarterback. Hancock has 41 sacks this year, and Citrus has 26. The Bulldogs have been outstanding at protecting quarterback Jimmy Kelleher. Hancock has allowed just four sacks this year, and Citrus has allowed 23.
Besides the sacks, Osa Omokaro, Connor Epley, J.D. Smith, Dominic King and other Hancock pass rushers have been adept at forcing opposing quarterbacks to hurry their throws.
The three Pacific League sacks leaders are scheduled to be on the Hancock gridiron today. Omokaro is the league's sacks leader with 11. Citrus' Henry Karimu and Greg Trueman are second and third, with eight and seven respectively.
A prolific Hancock rushing offense (242 yards a game) will square off against a stingy Citrus run defense (102 rushing yards allowed a game).
Hancock's three leading backs, Ryheem Skinner, Damon Whitmill Jr. and Isaac Bausley, rotate in and they are second, sixth and ninth respectively in the league in rushing. Skinner ranks second in yards (92 a game) and third in rushing touchdowns (seven for the year).
The Owls have one of the top backs in the league themselves, Devin Floyd. He averages 73 yards a game rushing, which is fifth in the league.
Citrus has an athletic quarterback, Darreon Lockett. Like Kelleher, Lockett has thrown eight touchdown passes.
Lockett has thrown just three interceptions, and he can move. At 36 yards a game he is the team's second-leading rusher, behind Floyd.
A decent Citrus rushing offense (137 yards a game) will go against a Hancock run defense, sparked by linebacker Basiru Jobe who is the second-leading tackler in the league, that allows just 63 yards a game on the ground.
Kelleher has helped take some of the heat off the Hancock rushing attack by averaging 132 yards a game passing. His receptions leader, Nick Kimball, is likely out with an injury but at press time it appeared Michael Ferraro, Hancock's receptions yardage leader at 44 yards a game, was set to go.
Dominic Chance has made some timely catches for Hancock this year, and he turned a short pass into a 31-yard touchdown play for the final score and a game-clincher for the Bulldogs in a 21-7 win at Antelope Valley College last Saturday night that sewed up a share of the league title for Hancock.
The Marauders, like the Bulldogs, were 3-0 in league games going into that one.
Lockett averages 123 yards a game passing. Veteran Lenny Roundtree helped Hancock's pass defenders keep a prolific AVC passing attack to 122 yards last week.