It was a freak play, the kind that lingers in the memory and seems to forever flicker in the season lowlight films.
Trailing, 14-0, in the third quarter of its 1986 season opener, El Modena's young offense had driven to Edison's 21-yard line and seemed on the verge of climbing back into the game.
"When they found themselves down only 14-0, they thought, 'Hey, we can play with these guys,' " said Bill Backstrom, El Modena coach.
The Vanguards needed that confidence because senior Ross Bauer, the tailback who had gained 1,485 yards the season before, was out with a sprained ankle. In one quick practice mishap, the Vanguards had lost their team leader and one of only two starters with varsity experience.
At least they had confidence.
But on the very next play, Edison nose guard Bruce DuBois grabbed the football that El Modena quarterback Brady Whittingham was trying to hand off and ran 79 yards for a touchdown. Nose guards are not known for their ballhandling, let alone breakaway speed. But in just one play, the score that could have been 14-7 was 21-0, and the rout was on. Final score: 35-0.
"That one play turned the whole game around," Edison Coach Dave White said. "They were driving, maybe about to cut our lead in half, and then that happens. I looked at their players as they watched Bruce run--they were just stunned."
Backstrom thinks the play turned around more than a game. It inflicted some lingering psychological damage on his team.
"Some of the kids remember that pretty well," Backstrom said. "I thought that play was the biggest play of our preseason. We gave up something like 70 points in our first two games and didn't score anything. We had a nice drive going down the field and all of a sudden the nose guard makes that play. The kids were young and they just got down. Sometimes things like that just happen at the wrong time."
The Vanguards started 1-3, but were finally able to regain some confidence and salvage their season, winding up 5-5. Edison rolled to an 8-3 record.
Backstrom doesn't think the Vanguards will experience another such ego bruising when they open their 1987 season tonight at 7:30 against Edison at Orange Coast College.
"My kids are in a different frame of mind this year," Backstrom said. "Last year, they were competing for positions. Some of them weren't sure if they wanted to play in a varsity game, and they were going totally into the unknown. Bauer, the kid they expected to lead them was out. . . . I have the nucleus I didn't have last year."
That nucleus includes junior quarterback Trey Frank, a sometime starter last year who passed for 545 yards and 4 touchdowns. Bauer has been lost to graduation and will be replaced by not one but four tailbacks. What's more, each will get playing time. Steve McClaskey, John Sharpe and Marcus Esposito will trade off with Pat Leborio, a transfer from Mater Dei.
"These kids are each different kinds of backs, and I think that's going to present some problems to defenses," Backstrom said. "I hope to wear teams down with these kids."
Edison, meanwhile, will once again rely on the running of senior Kaleaph Carter, a three-year starter who has rushed for over 2,000 yards in two seasons. He rambled for 108 yards against El Modena last year.
Carter, the Chargers' strongest and fastest player, will also start at linebacker. He will be one of only three offensive starters and a single defensive starter returning.
Though White says his team is less experienced than last year's and is suffering from "small, nagging injuries," the Chargers still are ranked 10th by The Times.
In other games at 7:30 tonight:
Esperanza vs. Marina at Westminster High School: Marina, champion of the powerful Sunset League, returns only three starters and will be starting a sophomore, David Schultz, at quarterback. Esperanza is favored to win the Empire League with a combination of experience and an offensive line averaging 241 pounds from tackle to tackle.
Santa Ana Valley vs. Saddleback at Santa Ana Stadium: Quarterback Sean Therien will be directing a potent Saddleback offense against improved Santa Ana Valley, which last year averaged only 6 points per game while giving up 23.1.
Brea-Olinda vs. Troy at Fullerton High School: Quarterback Shon Riley will be trying to bring under control a Brea offense that turned the ball over three times in the first half as the Wildcats lost their opener to Hawaii's Baldwin High, 17-6. That control could be difficult against Troy, which has qualified for the playoffs three years in a row. Making matters worse will be a strong defense led by tackles Pete Aguilera and Sean Stretcher and backs Tom Wilson and Chris Conway.
Magnolia vs. Katella at Glover Stadium: Katella Coach Larry Anderson makes his debut with a veer offense and team that hasn't had a winning record in 17 seasons. His first test will be against Magnolia, which is also rebuilding and has moved wide receiver Jody Clark to quarterback.