University High School, which began the football season with modest goals, faces a more ambitious task tonight.
The Trojans, who started the season just hoping to finish .500, meet powerful La Habra at La Habra at 7:30 in the first round of the Southern Section playoffs.
In September, gaining a playoff berth seemed unlikely for University, which had a new coach in Mark Cunningham and was coming off a 1-8-1 year.
But University not only finished the regular season with a winning record (6-4), including a 13-10 upset of Sea View League co-champion Tustin last week, but the Trojans managed to finish in third place and earn a postseason berth.
However, Cunningham says his team isn't going to be content just because it made the playoffs.
"We're real satisfied we got into the playoffs, but now that we're here we want to get something out of it, we want to go out there and have a good showing," Cunningham said.
La Habra has won or shared the Freeway League championship four straight years. Last year, the Highlanders were eliminated by eventual champion Saddleback in a semifinal game.
Coach Bob Rau's team finished the regular season by defeating previously unbeaten Sunny Hills, 17-7, two weeks ago before shutting out Sonora, 32-0, last week. La Habra finished 4-1 in league and 6-3 overall.
Cunningham has been impressed by the Highlanders.
"They're explosive on offense and hit hard on defense," Cunningham said. "Plus, they've played some good teams along the way. I'm sure they'll be ready for us."
The winner will meet the winner of tonight's Anaheim-La Mirada game next week in the second round.
In other Central Conference games tonight:
Los Amigos (6-4) at Valencia (8-1-1)--The Tigers, the No. 1-seeded team in the conference, must avoid overlooking the unpredictable Lobos. Los Amigos, the third-place representative from the Garden Grove League, has averaged 34 points a game in its last three games. The Lobos are led by quarterback Andy Baturevich, who threw 11 touchdown passes during the regular season. Valencia, the Orange League champion, has a strong running game and a solid defense.
Troy (8-2) at Artesia (7-3)--Artesia, the Suburban League champion, gets the home-field advantage even though Troy, which finished third in the Freeway League, has the better overall record. Artesia must find a way to stop the running and passing of Troy quarterback Mike Pawlawski. The winner plays either Los Amigos or Valencia in the second round.
La Quinta (6-4) vs. Sunny Hills (9-1), Spaulding Field--This is another case in which overall records could prove deceptive. Sunny Hills, Freeway League co-champion, is favored, but La Quinta's offense--when quarterback Derek Debbs is playing well--can score against the best defenses. However, La Quinta Coach Roger Takahashi said that tight end Jim Recktenwald, offensive lineman Matt Childress and running back Alan Stevenson all suffered minor injuries in last week's 28-17 loss to Bolsa Grande and are questionable tonight for the Aztecs, who finished second in the Garden Grove League.
Anaheim (6-4) at La Mirada (6-4)--The Matadors enter the playoffs with a four-game winning streak. La Mirada finished second in the Suburban League, losing only to Artesia in league play, 30-0. Anaheim, the No. 2 representative from the Orange League, started slowly before winning six of its last seven, including an 18-7 victory over Brea-Olinda last week.
Fullerton (7-3) at Bolsa Grande (9-1)--Fullerton, which finished fourth in the Freeway League but earned a wild-card playoff berth, has been beset by injuries to its running backs--and the Indians are a running team. Bolsa Grande, which won its first outright Garden Grove League championship, will be playing the school's first home playoff game.
Western (6-4) at Tustin (8-2)--The Tillers are trying to recover from their 13-10 upset loss to University last week. Tustin shared the Sea View League title with Saddleback. Western enters the playoffs as the No. 3 representative from the Orange League. Tiller running back Lani Machado will miss the game with an injury. The winner will meet either Fullerton or Bolsa Grande in the second round.
Norwalk (6-4) vs. Saddleback (9-1), Santa Ana Stadium, Saturday, 7:30--The defending conference champion Roadrunners, who shared the Sea View League title with Tustin, will be the favorites to defeat the Lancers, the No. 3 representative from the Suburban League.