Planning strategy for a football game with Capistrano Valley High School is relatively simple: Stop Scott Stark and you stop the Cougars. Putting such strategy into effect, however, is another matter.
"Everybody has a game plan. Ours was to put pressure on their quarterback, which I thought we did quite well," said Corona del Mar Coach Dave Holland after his team became the Cougars' third victim of the season, 27-0, Friday night.
"But that strategy left some seams in our defense for their running game, and they exploited it," Holland said. "I didn't even think they had a running game."
Holland can be excused for the oversight. After all, with the county's top passer in Stark and the county's top receiver in Nathan Call, the Cougars have been a one-dimensional team so far this season. But with Tom Grieco leading the way, Capistrano Valley ran the ball with surprising ease in the first half to compensate for a sub-par passing game, at least by Stark standards.
"We took what they gave us," Cougar Coach Dick Enright said. "With the way they were playing us, I thought we could trap them a bit, and we did. We showed we could run the ball inside."
A team that normally runs just enough to keep a defense honest, Capistrano Valley rushed 27 times and passed on just 21 occasions. Though his statistics weren't all that impressive (7 carries for 45 yards), Grieco set the mood when he keyed a second-quarter scoring drive with an 18-yard run. His six-yard blast up the middle accounted for the game's second score.
Stark accounted for the rest, throwing for a pair of touchdown passes and running for one. In three outings, he has hurled eight scoring passes. His seven-yard scramble in the fourth quarter that capped the game's scoring was his first on the ground this year.
A 6-foot-3 senior who has gone over the 300-yard mark twice already, Stark didn't have one of his better statistical performances. He hit on 16 of 21 passes for 245 yards with 1 interception.
What he did especially well was hang tough in the face of intense pressure by Corona del Mar. Sacked on several occasions and forced to scramble out of the pocket constantly, he still had enough composure to hook up with Todd Beightol on a 50-yard scoring play in the first quarter and team up with his favorite receiver, Call, for eight completions, including a 14-yarder for a score.
"I don't think we played as well as the score shows," Enright said. "We had a lot of procedure penalties and dumb mistakes. But we'll take it."
Enright was also happy to regain the services of Grieco, who has been absent for non-football reasons.
"He's a John Riggins type of runner," Enright said. "Getting him back is really going to help us."
Of course, what everybody came to see was Stark's aerial acrobatics, and even on a sub-par night, it was something to behold. "He and Call make one helluva team," Holland said.
Sea King defensive back Kevin McLaughlin, who had his hands full trying to contain the duo, concurred: "They played real well. They're a good football team, but we weren't so bad ourselves."
Corona del Mar didn't help its own cause as the Sea Kings committed a rash of mistakes, including a series of three in a mishap-marred third quarter. The Sea Kings fumbled the second half kickoff to Call, and after Craig Nixon intercepted a Stark pass, Tod Bearbower returned the favor by throwing an interception to Cougar Don Shoeny. The two teams then traded fumbles as the third quarter came to a close.