Phase Two of the football season begins Friday for most of the South Bay's CIF-Southern Section high schools.
It's time to separate the contenders from the pretenders as competition gets under way in the Bay, Ocean, Pioneer and Angelus leagues.
The teams considered favorites based on their performances in non-league play are looking for improvement, while others view the opening of the league season as a rebirth of sorts.
"It's like starting the year over," said Palos Verdes Coach Bill Judy, whose team was the preseason favorite in the Bay League but has struggled to a 2-3 non-league record.
Judy has been in this position before. Last season the Sea Kings entered league action with a 1-4 mark and went 4-1 to end up Bay tri-champions with South Torrance and West Torrance.
What sets league games apart, of course, is the fact that championships and playoff berths are at stake. An upset or a letdown can mean the difference between making and missing the playoffs.
"You have to beat the teams you are supposed to," said Coach Les Congelliere of defending Pioneer League co-champion Redondo.
In other words, there is little margin for error in a tightly contested league race. And close races are exactly what area coaches have come to expect.
Aside from three teams tying for the Bay League title last season, there were co-champions in the Ocean (Beverly Hills and Santa Monica) and Pioneer (Redondo and Morningside) leagues. Following is a rundown of who's hot and who's not entering league play:
Coaches consider South Torrance (4-1) the favorite--and for good reason. Coach Joe Austin says the offense, averaging 30 points a game, is the most balanced in his 14 years at South.
The Spartans' weapons include tailback Mike Wyrick, who, with 835 yards, is on a pace to break the school rushing record set last season by league MVP Steve Kujawa. Quarterback Zak Krislock has passed for 899 yards and 13 touchdowns, while wide receiver John Morton has 21 catches for 415 yards. Morton's seven TDs include a 96-yard kickoff return in last week's 35-21 win over Redondo.
Up front, a good-sized line is anchored by tackle Greg Baer, guard Dan Spahr and tight end Brett Austin, one of the primary receivers as well. Injuries have sidelined two starting linemen--two-way tackle Doug Sunstedt (knee) and defensive tackle George Giourof (broken arm).
"I originally thought Palos Verdes would win the league, but I'd say South now," said West Torrance co-coach Mark Knox. "South has been so much more consistent than anyone else. Their offense is balanced and they're blocking well."
South's only non-league loss was to unbeaten Hawthorne, 27-14, a game Austin believes the Spartans could have won if not for defensive mistakes. This week's key opener pits South against West Torrance, which handed the Spartans their only league loss last year, 19-7. "They always seem to play well against us," Austin said. The game begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday at South.
Judy says Palos Verdes' shortcoming has been the lack of consistent passing. The Sea Kings have relied on the rushing of running backs Matt Seaburn and Greg Branch, but the coach hopes that will change. "We have to throw more successfully," Judy said. "That's our objective for the next couple of weeks." That means more responsibility will fall on left-handed quarterback Dave Walsh.
Palos Verdes could be without both starting offensive tackles for its league home opener at 3 p.m. Friday against Torrance. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound Pat Fresch is suffering from a deep leg bruise and Ian Filep is questionable with a sprained ankle. With Fresch on the bench, the Sea Kings had trouble running last week in a 9-7 loss to Mira Costa.
West Torrance (1-4) is developing into the Brigham Young University of the Bay League. The Warriors have averaged 32 passes in their last two games, and Knox says the aerial show will continue in league play. Quarterback Mike Berry has passed for 465 yards the last two weeks in a 21-17 win over Mira Costa and a 14-10 loss to Tustin. Wide receiver Steve Jangaard, who tied a school record with 12 receptions against Mira Costa, is Berry's prime target.
North Torrance (1-4), forced to use three quarterbacks because of injuries, hopes to get senior Jim Henderson back for Friday's 3 p.m. game at Rolling Hills. Henderson, a returning starter, suffered a separated shoulder in the second game. The Saxons have been relying on the running of tailback Anthony Anetema.