It's known at Valley Christian High School as the jinx . In his eight seasons as coach, Mike Wunderley has taken the Crusaders into the playoffs in the Southern Section's Inland Conference. And each time, the tiny private school in Cerritos has found a way to stumble before the final.
But this season, the jinx has been put to rest as the Crusaders (11-1) play Carpinteria (11-2) Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Inland final at Gahr High in Cerritos.
For Wunderley the jinx had become a quiet obsession, the one flaw in his successful coaching career (71-24-1).
There were problems even before this season began, when a nonleague opponent dropped its game with Valley Christian. Then, four two-way starters were injured and missed the first four weeks of the season.
But Valley managed to rally, despite the loss of a fifth two-way starter (quarterback/defensive back Mike Westra) four weeks ago. Still, the Crusaders have been playing well.
"The kids felt all along that they had the ability to get here (the championship game)," Wunderley said. "They weren't going to let anything get them off track."
Of the jinx, he said: "We were aware of it, but we didn't hard-sell it to these kids before the semifinal game (a 21-14 overtime win over Tehachapi). Everyone in the place was aware of it."
So much so that when Valley returned from Tehachapi, the team was met at school by a crowd of boosters.
Carpinteria, the Tri-Valley League champion, enters Saturday's game without Jon Keiser, the school's all-time rushing leader. Keiser was removed from the team for disciplinary reasons just before last week's 21-10 win over Bishop High. Replacing Keiser will be John Zanini, a junior. Zanini rushed for 75 yards last week and forced a key fumble that led to the winning touchdown.
Earlier in the week, Warrior Coach Lou Panizzon (95-38-1) didn't mention the loss of Keiser, but did say that his team had "the most explosive offense I've been associated with in my career."
This is Carpinteria's third title game.
Warrior quarterback Tyler Whitney has thrown for 2,797 yards and 28 touchdowns. Slotback Chris Ames has scored 172 points, including 8 field goals and 58 extra points. Like Valley Christian, most of the starters play both ways.
Valley Christian counters with all-purpose Sean McQuown, who has kicked 8 field goals and 45 PATs. He has 44 receptions for 718 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also has 11 interceptions.
Junior Lance Havel, who replaced Westra, has been superb at quarterback. In his first game, an Olympic League-clinching win over Ontario Christian, Havel completed his first 10 passes. He has thrown for more than 700 yards since he became the starter.