The creation of the 3-A Sunset League two years ago allowed Chatsworth and Canoga Park to escape from the Valley 4-A League, where they were pummeled regularly by the not-so-jolly green giants of Granada Hills and fierce Tigers and Golden Cougars of San Fernando and Kennedy.
Chatsworth has a two-year league record of 9-1 in the Sunset and is chasing its third straight league title. Eight starters return to the Chancellors, who advanced to the City Section 3-A playoffs last season before being buried by Fairfax, 27-0.
Canoga Park has a 7-3 league record over the same span. Losses to Chatsworth both years are the difference between the teams. Six all-leaguers return to the Hunters, who couldn't find the key to Locke and lost, 28-15, in the first round of the playoffs last season.
Except for Monroe tying Chatsworth for the league title in 1984, other league members have been shut out of the playoffs. Poor Van Nuys has been shut out seven times on the scoreboard in 10 Sunset League games and Monroe slipped to 1-4 last season. Significant improvement from either is not expected.
Birmingham and Taft, who have faded in the Sunset the last two years, believe they have the talent to challenge Chatsworth and Canoga Park, however. And the Braves and Toreadors are taking decidedly different roads to respectability.
Birmingham Coach Alan Epstein hopes the answer is the fast lane because he has more offensive horsepower than ever in his seven seasons. By contrast, Taft Coach Tom Stevenson is banking on a defense that is as difficult to penetrate as a roadblock.
Said Epstein: "We've got the people at skill positions on offense like we've haven't had before. We could be a very exciting team."
Said Stevenson: "We have to be considered one of the top defensive teams around. We have three great defensive backs and three great linebackers. If we get people to support those players, we can be an exceptional defensive team."
Epstein and Stevenson differ on more than the personnel of their teams. While Epstein believes Taft is a formidable opponent ("Taft is an excellent team," he said.), Stevenson isn't overly impressed with Birmingham.
"Sure, Birmingham is going to score points," Stevenson said, "but can they stop anybody? I want to wait and see about Birmingham."
Perhaps the score of last season's Taft-Birmingham game is an influence on their respective attitudes: Taft 43, Birmingham 7.
The team Stevenson respects is Chatsworth, coached by Myron Gibford. "Myron gets more out of his talent than any coach around," Stevenson said.
Wait a minute. Gibford is high on Birmingham.
"I think Birmingham is the league favorite," Gibford said. "Most people think they are a team to beat. They have what it takes to get to the playoffs."
So might Canoga Park. After losing to Chatsworth, 9-0, and, 12-3, the past two seasons, the hungry Hunters are working overtime under eager first-year Coach Rudy Lugo.
"Our off-season work has been undertaken with enthusiasm," Lugo said. "This is a balanced league and we will need to be ready every week."
Although Gibford deflected attention from his team by choosing Birmingham as the league favorite, Lugo and Stevenson point knowingly to Chatsworth.
"Chatsworth is the team to beat," Stevenson said. "They've got big hogs up front. They can pound everybody."
Said Lugo: "There are four real good teams. It's closely balanced. But it always seems to come down to us and Chatsworth."
For two season, anyway, the Sunset has been lovely to the Chancellors.