NATIONAL CITY — The game that started the rivalry:
Fallbrook High vs. Sweetwater. Nov. 17, 1984. Fallbrook came into the first-round San Diego Section playoff game a big underdog, having won just five of 10 games. Sweetwater, the defending 3-A champion, was riding a 22-game winning streak.
So Fallbrook tried something strange. On the game's first play, quarterback Jaime Miramontes knelt next to the ball ostensibly to tie his shoelaces. The remainder of the Fallbrook players stood to the right of the ball with running back Matt Mulligan stationed a couple of yards behind his teammates.
The Sweetwater defense was still waiting for Fallbrook to huddle. Instead, Miramontes snapped the ball to Mulligan, who ran behind nine blockers for 22 yards before a stunned Sweetwater defense could recover.
The play provided the Warriors with the early momentum and they scored a few plays later for a 7-0 lead. The momentum was fleeting, however, and Sweetwater rolled to a 48-7 victory.
Last year, the teams again met in the playoffs. There were no shenanigans and the game was much closer. Sweetwater won, 20-17, to extend its same winning streak to 36 games.
The teams will meet for the third straight year in the playoffs tonight at 7:30, and for the third straight year they will meet at Sweetwater High. The winner moves into the 3-A semifinals next week.
But when you're talking Fallbrook-Sweetwater, the memories of the play return.
"We had some fun with that one," Fallbrook Coach Tom Pack said. "But the bottom line is that we lost to them. Then we lost again last year. It's time to get out of there with a win."
It won't be easy.
After beating Fallbrook last year in the playoffs, Sweetwater had its county-record 36-game winning streak ended in the semifinals by Helix. But the Red Devils came back to win their first nine games this year before losing, 15-14, to Chula Vista in the season's final week. That makes 45 victories in their last 47 games. And two for two against Fallbrook.
"Last year was real disappointing," Pack said. "Our kids left the field feeling that we really didn't play our best game. I think the kids who are back are looking forward to having another shot at them."
Fallbrook comes into the game riding a six-game winning streak that includes a 55-6 victory over Madison in the first-round of the 3-A playoffs last Friday. Quarterback Scott Barrick led the county in passing with 2,512 yards and 23 touchdown passes. His favorite target, wide receiver Bill Dunckel, led the county with 71 receptions, 15 of which went for scores.
Sweetwater will counter with a ground attack led by junior running back Pierre Jones, who averaged more yards per game than any county runner. Jones finished with 1,590 yards in nine games, an average of 176.7 yards a game. He scored 19 touchdowns.
"Jones may not yet be as good as (1985 Times' Back of the Year) Terry Rodgers (of Sweetwater), but he's definitely just as fast," said George Ohnesorgen, Chula Vista coach. "This is a very typical Sweetwater team. They play very good defense and execute their plays on offense."
One of the keys to the outcome may be the head-to-head duel between Dunckel at wide receiver and Sweetwater cornerback Scott Catlin, one of the finest man-to-man defenders in the South Bay. Last week against Madison, Dunckel scored on two 52-yard pass receptions from Barrick.
If Catlin is able to shut down Dunckel, Fallbrook could be forced to resort to its old bag of tricks to move the football.
"We don't plan on anything like we did two years ago, but you never know," Pack said. "If we do try it, I'd like to see it win us a ballgame this time."
Other Playoff Games
TODAY In a 3-A game:
Granite Hills (8-3-0) at Mira Mesa (8-2-0)--Granite Hills, the No. 12 seeded team, surprised Chula Vista, 13-3, in the first round despite 10 turnovers. Its defense, led by linebacker Scott Weber, held Chula Vista 25 points below its average. Granite Hills relies on a strong ground game led by Tom Vardell and Robert Padillo, who combined for 254 yards rushing against Chula Vista. Mira Mesa's Essex Burton averaged 135 yards rushing and 23 carries during the season. He will often run behind tight end Ray Rowe (6-4, 225), who is a tremendous blocker. Defensively, lineman Bill Clem averaged four sacks a game and Andre Falkquay is excellent on coverage and returns.
In the 2-A playoffs:
Christian (6-5-0) at Grossmont (6-3-1)--This is the second meeting of the year between these East County teams. Grossmont defeated Christian, 10-6, in the season opener. Christian quarterback Jon Okken threw for 334 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first-round playoff victory over Castle Park, 21-17. Grossmont League defensive player of the year, linebacker Jerry Brewer, leads Grossmont, which had a first-round bye.