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Orange County Prep Review : Overcoming Big 4th-Period Deficit Is All in Night's Work for La Habra

November 24, 1986|Mike DiGiovanna

Hey, coach, having problems getting the most out of your football players? Been smashing clipboards and hurling headphones in frustration, trying to get your high school kids to play up to their potential?

Take a tip from La Habra High School Coach Bob Rau.

Give your players a little adversity--something like a 20-point deficit in the fourth period.

Works like a charm for Rau and the Highlanders.

In La Habra's season opener against Warren 10 weeks ago, the Highlanders trailed, 20-0, in the fourth quarter before scoring three touchdowns and a safety to pull out a 23-20 victory.

They did it again Friday night against University in the first round of the Southern Section Central Conference playoffs. La Habra was behind, 27-7, in the fourth period, but scored four touchdowns for a 35-27 victory.

"It took us 40 minutes, but things finally started to function," Rau said. "Then, we got on a roll and began to play like La Habra. We played about 40 minutes of inept football, eight minutes of our football, and that was enough."

Rau called Friday night's comeback "amazing," but, considering what the Highlanders did in the season opener, maybe it wasn't all that improbable.

At least, it didn't seem that way to La Habra quarterback Matt Shackelford.

"When it was 27-7, the Warren game popped into my mind," the junior said. "I just had a feeling that we could come back."

Shackelford was largely responsible for the Highlanders' victory over Warren as he threw three touchdown passes to John Robertson in the fourth period. Friday night, he came off the bench to complete 22 of 34 passes for 281 yards, two for touchdowns in the last quarter.

Shackelford started the first five games this season but separated his shoulder against Troy. Robertson, who had played running back, filled in and threw for about 300 yards and 7 touchdowns in the Highlanders' final four regular-season games.

Shackelford recovered from his injury two weeks ago and returned at cornerback, but Rau stuck with Robertson, who had led La Habra to three straight victories, at quarterback.

"John came in and did a good job," Rau said. "I don't care if you've got Roger Clemens in the bullpen, when you have a guy throwing a no-hitter, you stay with him."

But Robertson was ineffective in the first quarter against University. He threw an interception, the Highlanders' offense was struggling, and the Trojans had a 14-0 lead after the first 12 minutes. Rau changed quarterbacks early in the second quarter, and the move finally paid off in the fourth.

"Matt's coming on right now, and we'll probably go with him (in Friday night's game against Anaheim)," Rau said. "But if he struggles, we'll go with John. We're blessed with two good quarterbacks."

Shackelford wasn't happy about losing the quarterback position late in the regular season but had no complaints afterward.

"That was the most balls I've thrown in my life," he said. "We came out throwing in the second half. My arm was about to fall off, but it was fun."

Big Flop: Orange County teams went 0 for 4 in the first round of the Big Five Conference playoffs, giving Marina, Edison, Westminster and Servite the dubious distinction of making the county's worst showing in the Big Five playoffs since the Southern Section went to the conference format in 1977.

The previous worst showing was in 1977, when Fountain Valley was eliminated in the second round and Newport Harbor was eliminated in the semifinals. Since then, Orange County has placed a team in seven of the last nine Big Five Conference championship games, winning five titles and one co-championship.

It was a humbling night for the once-proud Sunset League, which has produced three Big Five champions and a co-champion since 1978. League champion Marina lost to Loyola, 7-0; second-place Edison lost to Crespi, 21-8, and third-place Westminster lost to Bishop Amat, 35-7.

But at least the Sunset League didn't have four teams lose in the first round, as the Ocean League did in the Southern Conference playoffs. Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Hawthorne and Culver City, a wild-card team, all were eliminated.

Same Time Next Year: When Foothill plays Mission Viejo in the second round of the Southern Conference playoffs Friday night, it will mark the fourth straight year that the Knights and Diablos have met in the quarterfinals.

Mission Viejo leads the postseason series, 2-1, having defeated Foothill 14-8 last year and 16-13 in overtime in 1984. The Knights beat the Diablos in 1983 (23-14) on their way to the Southern Conference championship game.

"I usually say I don't care who we play in the playoffs as long as we keep playing," Foothill Coach Ted Mullen said. "But it would be fun to play someone else because they've handled us so well."

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