VISTA — San Dieguito High School's football team, which only a year ago was winless in the Palomar League, can complete a startling one-year turnaround tonight at 7:30 when it meets No. 1-ranked Vista for the league championship.
The game between the No. 4 team in San Diego County and the defending San Diego section 3-A champion makes you wonder if Palomar League officials knew something when they changed the schedule to match Vista and San Dieguito, instead of Vista and Fallbrook, on the final week of the regular season.
Of course, it's just a coincidence. But the fact that San Dieguito is 8-1 is not.
Said Vista Coach Dick Haines: "They're not doing it with mirrors, that's for sure."
San Dieguito really has no standout players, certainly none the caliber of Vista running back Tommy Booker, who has rushed for 1,525 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.
Instead, the Mustangs rely being solid player for player. Fullback Mark Horowitz leads the team in rushing with 680 yards. Halfback Greg August has gained 580. Quarterback Brett Ward passes for a little more than 100 yards per game. Receiver Tim Bray has caught only 20 passes, but 7 have been for touchdowns.
Their statistics may not be that impressive, but then, San Dieguito doesn't care much about individual achievements.
"This has been, in the best sense of it, a team effort," Mustang Coach Ed Burke said. "Quite frankly, we don't have any Tommy Bookers. But we have a lot of hard-working kids."
And publicity? Burke would just as well let teams such as Vista have the recognition.
"It's not exactly like we shun publicity but I do have to admit that I like our team to be sort of unheard of," Burke said. "It hasn't hurt us for other teams to not know much about us."
Burke became optimistic in the summer when the Mustangs played well in the passing leagues. But he never expected this.
"We thought we might be able to make the playoffs, but we didn't expect to come this far," he said.
San Dieguito began gaining momentum early in the season. It scored lopsided preleague victories over Southwest, Patrick Henry and Mission Bay. Then, after a loss to Oceanside in which Horowitz didn't play, the Mustangs beat Fallbrook, Poway and Orange Glen--teams that were all ranked in the preseason top 10--in a span of four weeks.
"The kids had some confidence early in the season but it has grown a lot during the season," Burke said. "If I can't get them ready for this game, I'll be pretty surprised."
Most would be just as surprised if Vista didn't clinch its third consecutive league championship tonight. The Panthers (9-0) have won 22 straight games over the past two seasons. This season, Vista has won by 16 points or more in eight of its nine games. Booker is not Vista's only standout. The Panthers also have wingback Marc Jones, who has rushed for 806 yards in 49 carries. Jones, quarterback Bill Faraimo and fullback David Strojny all are averaging six yards per carry.
That has Burke worried.
"They present so many problems not only because of their ballcarriers but because of their different formations and different blocking patterns," Burke said.
The outcome of today's key games will determine the makeup of next week's San Diego Section playoffs. The top two teams from each league in the 3-A division are assured playoff berths. Four additional teams in the 3-A will earn at-large playoff berths. In 2-A, the situation is similar, except only the champion from the Grossmont 2-A League and Metro South Bay League are assured of advancing.
A football advisory committee, consisting of one coach from each league, will recommend four teams for at-large consideration from both divisions.
The committee will consider several criteria: the outcome of head-to-head competition between teams involved; common opponents; and strength of schedules. If a team lost early in the season without key players, the loss will not be as damaging.
The committee will forward its findings to Section commissioner Kendall Webb, who will make the final decision.
Games to Watch
TODAY St. Augustine (1-3, 2-7) at Lincoln (3-1, 8-1)--Lincoln will clinch a playoff spot with a victory. If the Hornets win and Crawford beats Hoover, Lincoln would be the No. 1 seed in the 2-A playoffs. If Lincoln loses, it would likely gain an at-large berth.
Sweetwater (3-0, 9-0) at Chula Vista (2-1, 8-1)--Even though overall records are not being taken into account, both Sweetwater and Chula Vista seem certain to obtain playoff berths.
Crawford (3-1, 5-4) at Hoover (3-1, 7-2)--The winning team in this City Central League battle will be assured a playoff berth. In any event, both teams figure to advance to the playoffs.