Mount Miguel wins SDSU’s first passing tournament

Mount Miguel celebrating winning the SDSU Passing Tournament. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Verlain Betofe and Mount Miguel rush the field as champions as the final whistle sounds. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Something special happens annually in San Diego that goes largely unnoticed except by the community participating. This past weekend, SDSU Football hosted its first of two passing tournaments.

With 48 teams simultaneously playing on three fields, there was a palpable energy throughout Championship Sunday. Seeing that the program could put on such a terrific event during the beginning of summer conditioning and in the middle of an important recruiting stretch is nothing short of remarkable.

“It’s awesome,” SDSU head coach Sean Lewis said following the final game. “It’s a great event. It’s awesome to have so many quality teams in the area here to be able to engage with them and set something up for them to compete in. It’s a first-class deal. (Director of Football Operations) Ruben (Pena), the support staff, everyone’s done a tremendous job with it and it’s been an awesome past few days.”

The passing tournament mirrored the blue-collar nature of the program. There wasn’t a lot of frills or fluff. The weekend was dedicated to football. Mount Miguel High School was the fitting champion of the most competitive bracket.

“Great,” Mount Miguel head coach Verlain Betofe said when asked how he felt after his Matadors defeated Colony High School (Ontario, CA) in the championship. “Our offense played well the past few days. Our defense struggled a little bit yesterday, but they came out today and played lights out. We talked about a total team effort, and that’s what it was.”

The buzz following pool play on Saturday was the offensive juggernauts of Mount Miguel and Lincoln High. Lincoln, fresh off winning the ASU 7-on-7 passing league championship earlier in the week, won their pool over eventual Bracket C champions, Granite Hills, and Bracket B champions, Yuma Catholic.

Mount Miguel, who went undefeated on Saturday, was the only squad that matched Lincoln’s explosiveness. The bracket put the heavyweight battle in the semifinals, but only if Mount Miguel and Lincoln could dispatch the teams in the earlier rounds. The Matadors were up to the challenge, but the Hornets fell short in the quarterfinals.

Class of 2027, Jayden Hunter makes a key interception. (Don De Mars/EVT)

“The thing I tell these guys is it’s about competing,” Betofe replied when asked how the passing tournament fits into his bigger goals in the fall. “If you play with max effort with everything you’ve got, we’ll live with the results. It teaches these guys how to compete, be in tough situations, and win.”

Dominant is the best word to describe Mount Miguel’s play. They were in control of every game. Betofe embodied the competitiveness he wanted his team to play with. He was animated, loudly arguing with the refs at times, and coached with a contagious joy. His players matched his energy and competed with an edge throughout.

La Jolla Country Day School was Mount Miguel’s first opponent. LJCDS, who lost in the final of the consolation side of the bracket, could not match the Matadors’ precision. Mount Miguel’s athletes forced throws into windows that LJCDS could not complete on its way to a two-score victory.

“My mindset coming out here was to make big plays, execute, and go 100%,” Mount Miguel WR AJ Logan

Notre Dame High School fell to Mount Miguel in the quarterfinals in a defensive battle that felt inevitable despite the 19-9 final score. As the field next to Tony Gwynn Stadium cleared, whispers of Lincoln’s loss circulated. Instead of the Hornets, Upland High descended the stairs to take on the Matadors.

Each field had two games going at the same time. Both teams in each contest went in the same direction, with drives starting near midfield.

An SDSU staff member, with a stop-watch in hand to make sure the QBs released the ball on time, stood around in the backfield and managed the game. A pair of other assistants were line judges marking the placement of the ball and calling penalties.

Zac Barton cleaning up at the end of a long weekend of football. (Don De Mars/EVT)

“Everyone’s all hands on deck,” Lewis said. “They are doing any job that needs to be done, making it a first-class event for everyone. It’s a way to engage with the community, get great evaluations, build relationships, and there’s no job too small to make it happen.”

True to Lewis’ description, once Mount Miguel dispatched Upland, associate head coach Zac Barton led a group of coaches in stacking cones and pads to put the field back into its normal condition.

It was the first time all day that the Matadors switched venues. For their final game, they headed to the synthetic field SDSU uses for practice.

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During the elimination rounds, teams tried to keep Mount Miguel’s dynamic receivers in front of them, which opened up the underneath routes. Colony High applied pressure on the outside and paid the price. Mount Miguel QB Quentyn DeMara completed numerous deep passes for scores in the championship.

DeMara’s ability to adjust from the strategy he had seen all day to a new one in the title game was commendable. His stature will limit his college offers, but he is a gamer, made every throw in Mount Miguel’s arsenal, and looks poised for a great season.

The Matadors, who return 16 starters from their 2023 Division 4 CIF section title team, are young. They depend on underclassmen like Class of 2027 ATH Jayden Hunter, who made a game-changing interception in the title game. Against this youth, the maturity of WR AJ Logan stood out.

“I’ve coached really good receivers throughout my career, a couple guys in the NFL, and I’m telling you, AJ’s got the best hands I’ve ever coached,” Betofe, who counts The New Orleans Saints Chris Olave among his former pupils, said. “He’s one of those guys who you put him in a situation, he’s going to make plays. Super proud of him. He’s a dog, one of the best players in state of California. I truly believe that.”

Logan starred on Sunday in every contest. He excelled all over the field. Whenever Mount Miguel needed a clutch play, Betofe called Logan’s name, and DeMara put the ball where the scheme demanded.

“My mindset coming out here was to make big plays, execute, and go 100%,” Logan said after the tournament.

AJ Logan makes a reception against Colony High School in the SDSU Passing Tournament Championship. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Logan sat out his sophomore season after transferring to Mount Miguel. He spent the year practicing with his team and working on his game. He said that it felt “great” to compete as a Matador this weekend.

“I’ve coached really good receivers throughout my career, a couple guys in the NFL, and I’m telling you, AJ’s got the best hands I’ve ever coached,” – Mountain Miguel head coach Verlain Betofe

The talented rising junior mentioned SDSU and Arizona as schools that are recruiting him. With every staff member in attendance, the Aztecs’ interest in Logan was undoubtedly confirmed.

1960 was the last time Mount Miguel won a CIF title before last year. Betofe has higher aims this season. The Matadors proved this weekend they have the talent at the skill positions to reach the loftiest of goals.

Mount Miguel’s victory added to the legacy of the SDSU Passing Tournament. It has grown into a fixture in the San Diego football community.

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