When Upland played Rancho Cucamonga for the first time on Nov. 14, the Cougars prevailed in a 13-2 contest that was marked by 50 mph crosswinds that made passing, or even punting, virtually impossible.
So as the teams face each other in tonight's CIF-SS Central Division championship game at 7:30 at Chaffey College, what value does Rancho's previous win have? If you ask both teams, virtually none, at least from a game-planning standpoint.
"We didn't even watch the film of that game," Upland senior wide receiver/defensive back Taj Johnson said. "I'm pretty sure the coaches put that film right into the trash. It was a tough day to play football."
The No. 1-seeded Cougars (12-0-1) didn't throw a second-half pass against the Highlanders (11-2) in the victory, taking the ball out of star junior quarterback Greg Watson's hands.
"Neither team got to really run much of its playbook," Rancho Cucamonga coach Nick Baiz said. "It will be exciting to see what happens in better conditions."
According to weather.com, the temperature at game time will be in the upper 50s with light and variable winds, opening up the playbook for both teams.
However, the Cougars have been effective running the ball in the playoffs, a development that can be traced to the victory over Upland.
During that game, Rancho Cucamonga rode junior running back Michael Boyd, who ran for 129 yards, scoring both touchdowns. Boyd, along with sophomore running back Sateki Finau and Watson, combined for 329 yards on the ground in last week's 23-13 semifinal victory over No. 4-seeded Cajon.
The production between the three was about as even as it could possibly be, with Finau rushing for 111 yards and Boyd and Watson gaining 109 each.
"It helps out a lot," said Watson, who averaged over 200 yards a game passing in the regular season. "The offensive line has done a great job of opening up holes for me, Michael and Sateki. When they block as well as they have lately, it just makes everything that much easier."
The Cougars aren't the only team that's had recent success on the ground. In the Highlanders' 42-21 semifinal win over Los Osos last Saturday, they rode the legs of Northwestern-bound running back Davion Fleming instead of the right arm of Stanford-bound quarterback Josh Nunes.
Nunes certainly did well when called upon, completing 9 of 12 passes, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Anthony King while being pulled down by a Los Osos defender. But it was Fleming who helped key 35 unanswered Upland points, rushing for 125 of his 145 yards in the second half and scoring three touchdowns.
"It felt good to get that win and play well, but it's over," Fleming said. "This is the game we've been playing to get to since we were freshmen. We have been talking about this since we got to Upland and now that we are here, we have to take care of business."
The focus of the Highlanders since the fall of 2005 has been a corps of four Division I-caliber players - Fleming, Nunes, Johnson, who has an offer from Minnesota, and Arizona State-bound cornerback/wide receiver Osahon Irabor. It's been a bumpy road at times, as the Highlanders missed the playoffs in 2006 and were bumped out in the first round a year ago, but it's a ride that they are happy to have been a part of.
"It was awesome to get past Osos," Irabor said. "They've been a tough team for us to beat. But we got one more to go. It helps us in a game like this to play a team that we already know, but it probably helps them too."
That known team is a squad whose only blemish was a 14-14 tie to Covina Charter Oak, which is playing for the Southeast Division championship tonight against Diamond Ranch at Mt. SAC.
It's a team with speed to kill at wide receiver, as senior Irshad Stolden has three touchdown receptions of 40-plus yards in the playoffs while fellow senior Charles Saseun - the runner-up in the state 100-meter dash each of the past two years - has a 40-plus yard touchdown of his own in the postseason.
But more importantly, the Cougars have been stifling on defense, most recently holding a high-scoring Cajon team to its lowest output since September.
They'll be tested against an Upland team that has averaged 38 points a game in conditions that should be conducive for Nunes, who has thrown for 2,681 yards and 26 touchdowns this season.
The Cougar defense is used to playing against highly-touted personnel, and has a chip on its shoulder because of it.
"People still don't think we are for real," said senior linebacker Daniel Fonua, the heart and soul of the Cougars attack. "Because we didn't make the playoffs the last two years, everyone just thinks that we aren't for real."
Added Watson: "No one really believed until we beat Los Osos (Oct. 31). That's when the students really got behind us. But it's pretty crazy now."