El Modena High School Coach Bob Lester went back in time Thursday night. It wasn't a pleasant journey.
Lester was taken back--against his will--to Oct. 12, 1984. That was on the night his Vanguards, unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in Orange County, were upset by Century League rival Foothill, 21-6. It wasn't supposed to happen. But then, this rivalry never has been very big on predictability.
Nearly a year later, the circumstances were strikingly similar. So, much to Lester's disappointment, were the results. Foothill scored an improbable 14-0 victory in front of an estimated 2,700 spectators in Fred Kelly Stadium.
There was reason to believe that this year's renewal of one of Orange County's most storied and colorful rivalries would have trouble producing the excitement as some of those that have preceded it. El Modena had outscored its first four opponents, 103-35, and hadn't lost a game since the setback to the Knights last season.
Foothill entered the game with an offense that had generated 45 points in four games, and there seemed to be some doubts as to whether the Knights could contend for the Century League title with defense alone.
Lester took all of this into consideration before the game, and began to worry. He had been down this path before. Foothill Coach Ted Mullen had the Vanguards right where he wanted them, Lester warned.
He was painfully right. Afterward, he took no great pleasure in telling reporters, "I told you so."
"We've got a repeat performance of last year . . . to the letter," he said. "They did a number on us from top to bottom."
The Foothill victory was significant for a number of reasons. Among the biggest:
--it gives the Knights a 9-8-2 lead in this series;
--it snaps El Modena's 12-game winning streak,
--and, whether Mullen likes it or not, it re-establishes the Knights as a county power.
This was a plain-wrap victory for Foothill. There was nothing particularly fancy about it. The Knights simply did what they had to do to win.
Starting quarterback Chris Fergus watched from the sideline. Fergus suffered a knee injury in the Knights' 17-10 victory over Santa Ana last week. He was replaced by Brian Horton, who Fergus had beaten out for the starting job earlier in the season. Horton passed sparingly, but efficiently. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 69 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Bill Medina that turned out to be the game's biggest play.
After a scoreless first quarter, Foothill got the ball in good field position when Keith Takabayashi returned a punt to the Vanguard 43. Horton passed for a nine-yard gain to Mike Bryant to set up the touchdown pass.
Horton left the pocket and scrambled to his left, tucking the ball away long enough to make the El Modena secondary think he was on the run. Before reaching the line of scrimmage, he pulled up and threw to Medina, who was open near the El Modena 10. Median went into the end zone untouched to give Foothill a 7-0 lead with 4:43 left in the half.
The Knights' other touchdown was set up by another Takabayashi punt return. This time, the 5-foot-8 senior dropped the ball near midfield, picked it up and ran 37 yards down the right sideline before he was knocked out of bounds at the El Modena 15.
A personal foul penalty against the Vanguards moved the ball to the 7. Two plays later, running back John Fischbeck scored on a dive over right tackle from two yards out. With 1:41 left in the third quarter, Foothill was on it's way to rekindling memories of 1984.
The Knights' defense, led by linebackers Tom Quinn and Matt Bain and nose guard Brian Healy, would not let the lead slip away. El Modena had 87 yards in total offense in the second half, 53 of which came on one play. Running back Ross Bauer broke off the big run for the Vanguards on the play that followed Foothill's second touchdown, but El Modena's drive stalled four plays later on the Foothill 22.
Bauer finished with 126 yards on 19 carries. Fischbeck carried 26 times for 86 hard-earned yards.
Mullen said before the game that his team would be "outmanned." In most years, this game was a tossup, he said, but not this time.
It was all part of Mullen's grand plan to gain a psychological edge, and it worked.
"The circumstances surrounding this game favored us all the way," Mullen admitted afterward. "But in this series, you can't take anything for granted.
"I'm sure this will help them just like it did last year. They'll regroup, and by the end of the season, they'll be knocking on the CIF championship door."