Dave Lay is beginning to wonder what he got himself into this summer when he accepted the football coaching job at Orange Glen High School.
It's not that his team isn't good. Orange Glen is 3-1-1.
The problem is that it plays in the Palomar League, in which every team has at least a .500 record and often every league game seems as if it is the biggest of the season.
Orange Glen plays tonight at Mt. Carmel (5-0 overall, 2-0 in league), fifth-ranked in San Diego County by The Times. In another season, it could be a game that would decide first place in the league. Instead, the best that Orange Glen (0-1 in league) can hope for is to move into a tie for fourth.
"We still are playing for first," Lay said. "But it's awful tough this season. We don't feel like we can afford to lose a game.
"I figured it out that Palomar League teams are 18-2-3 against nonleague opponents. Vista (lost) by five to Fontana, one of the best teams in the state, and Fallbrook lost to El Camino. I think that should tell you something about our league."
Some Palomar League coaches believe that fourth ought to be good enough to make the San Diego Section 3-A playoffs. The top two teams in each of the four leagues are guaranteed a playoff berth, but the other four playoff spots are at-large. Because of the strength of the Palomar League, the league's coaches think they should get at least two of those.
Torrey Pines Coach Rik Haines said he thinks the league should get "at least" four playoff representatives.
Lay and Mt. Carmel's Bill Christopher said they agree with Haines, but added that they can't worry too much about it yet. They have to think about the other's team.
Mt. Carmel has the county's top defense, allowing an average of four points per game. No opponent has scored more than seven points, and Mt. Carmel shut out Crawford and San Pasqual in its first two games.
Christopher said he is concerned how his secondary will play against Orange Glen and its quarterback, Sean Gousha. Gousha is the county's No. 2 quarterback, passing for an average of 192.5 yards per game. He has thrown for eight touchdowns this season.
Mt. Carmel's Alan Cross had two interceptions and Gannon Tidwell had one in last week's victory over Torrey Pines. But Christopher said Gousha throws the ball better and more often than Torrey Pines.
"We are probably a year away from a great pass defense," said Christopher, who started coaching at Mt. Carmel again this year after a four-year layoff. "We are limited as to what we can put in because it's a whole new philosophy for them to learn. That scares me a little when you go against a team like Orange Glen. We haven't played a team that relies on the pass yet."
Mt. Carmel's offense is led by Mark King, who has averaged 100.8 yards rushing per game. He complements quarterback Chris Beeman, who has completed 60.5% of his passes and averaged 150.4 yards passing per game.
"How we play defensively will decide the game," Lay said.
Other Games to Watch
TODAY No. 10 Chula Vista (3-0-2) at No. 7 Sweetwater (3-2)--This is probably the biggest game of the season for both schools.
First, it is the Metro-Mesa League opener between the league teams that have played best so far this season. But even if they hadn't played well to this point, this game would mean more than others to the players. Sweetwater and Chula Vista have played each other since 1947, making it the second-longest rivalry in San Diego County. Chula Vista beat Sweetwater in the last game of the '86 season to tie for the league title. It was only the second time in 10 years that Sweetwater Coach Gene Alim had lost to Chula Vista, and the defeat broke a 60-game league winning streak. It's also Sweetwater's homecoming.
"The fact that it's homecoming and it's Chula means a lot to the players," Alim said. "I think the revenge factor is in their minds as well. This is the start of the most important phase of the season for us."
Chula Vista has won its last three games after two ties. Sweetwater has lost its last two games, the first time that has happened in 10 years.
"We would be on an upswing, too, if we played Hilltop and Castle Park," said Alim, referring to Chula Vista's opponents. Alim's team lost to No. 6 Lincoln and No. 3 Point Loma. "Nothing against those schools, but they are not Lincoln and Point Loma."
Sweetwater has five players who are either out or considered questionable for tonight's game, including Pierre Jones, the No. 3 running back in the county. Jones has soreness in his back, but doctors are not exactly sure what the injury is. He played only a few downs last week.
"I don't care if their legs are broken, they'll find some way to play," Chula Vista Coach George Ohnesorgen said.