Although Mt. Carmel High School's football players might have received a lift from Vista's 30-18 loss to Orange Glen last week, Coach Bill Christopher had more of a sinking feeling.
"From a coaching standpoint and a worry standpoint, I don't think it will be much of an edge," said Christopher, whose team beat Orange Glen two weeks ago, 26-21. "I know how much pride they have at Vista. Losing is not something Vista's kids are used to.
"I know they are going to be coming back hard, looking for a win, no matter who they are playing."
Vista will play Mt. Carmel, which now leads the Palomar League, at Vista High School tonight at 7:30.
And, yes, Vista's kids are not used to losing. In fact, Vista has won the last three Palomar League championships. But the loss to Orange Glen and a nonleague loss to Fontana, one of the top teams in the state, has reduced Vista (5-2 overall, 3-1 in league play) to a challenger for the first time since 1983.
Mt. Carmel, however, is off to its best start since the school opened in 1974. Before this season, Mt. Carmel had a regular-season record of 40-67-5 in 13 years. This season, the Sundevils are 6-0 and 3-0.
"It feels nice to be in first place," Christopher said, "but, in this league, it's a weekly thing."
Things won't get any easier for Mt. Carmel, either. After Vista, Mt. Carmel faces San Dieguito and Fallbrook, and those opponents are three of the four toughest teams in the county's toughest league.
"We set a lot of goals at the beginning of the season," Christopher said. "We said nothing about going to the stadium (San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium for the San Diego Section championship). We just said, 'Hey, let's have a winning season.' "
That was certainly a more realistic view, considering Mt. Carmel's vantage point at the beginning of the season.
Seventeen players returned from a 3-7 team, and Christopher returned after a five-year layoff while he working with the Associated Students organization.
Only Poway and Orange Glen figured to finish lower in the Palomar League than Mt. Carmel. But Vista Coach Dick Haines knew better.
"I took a deep breath when I heard (Christopher) was coming back," Haines said. "I said we should all get together and send him back to the (Associated Students) office."
Christopher's last season at Mt. Carmel was 1982, the only time the Sundevils beat Vista. Mt. Carmel advanced to the 3-A Section championship that year before losing to Helix, 10-6.
In spite of two losses, Vista is far from being a lightweight in the league. Its offense is difficult to control with the powerful running of fullback David Strojny and tailback Marc Jones (110.7 yards per game).
Mt. Carmel counters with consistent passing from quarterback Chris Beeman (58 of 90 for 834 yards) and strong running from Mark King (107.2 yards per game).
As for any extra motivation from the Orange Glen loss, Haines is confident his team will release some of that frustration on the field tonight.
"Our kids are highly motivated young men," Haines said. "They don't like the idea of a loss, and they are never going to."
BIG GAME FACTS
Who: No. 5 Mt. Carmel vs. No. 4 Vista.
Where: Vista High School.
When: 7:30 p.m.
Records: Mt. Carmel (6-0, 3-0); Vista (5-2, 3-1).
Last meeting: Vista 14, Mt. Carmel 10 (1986).
Players to watch: Mt. Carmel: Mark King (5-11, 180), RB; Alan Cross (6-4, 185), WR; John Tejcek (5-11, 165), DB. Vista: Bill Faraimo (6-2, 190), QB; Marc Jones (6-0, 185), TB; Clarence Loa (6-2, 240), OG.
Other Games to Watch
TODAY Granite Hills (4-3, 1-0) at No. 2 Mount Miguel (7-0, 1-0)--Stopped by an ankle injury earlier in the season, Granite Hills running back Brian Giles has improved each week since his return. And so have the Eagles.
Without Giles, Granite Hills lost to Chula Vista, 28-0. With him back, the Eagles have defeated Valhalla (14-7), Santana (41-7) and Monte Vista (28-6). Last week, Giles rushed for 148 yards and 4 touchdowns against Monte Vista.
Giles is the top rusher in the Grossmont League and third in the county, averaging 125.5 yards per game.
"We're really concerned about stopping him," Mount Miguel Coach Gary Cooper said. "They're really on a roll. They've won their last two games really big."
But Mount Miguel has taken care of top runners before. Three weeks ago, it held El Capitan's Andy Johns, then the league's top rusher, to nine yards in seven carries.
Mount Miguel has the top defense in the county, allowing six points a game. The Matadors are allowing just 41 yards a game on the ground.
Mar Vista (5-2, 2-0) at Coronado (6-1, 1-0)--After winning seven games in five years (from 1980 to 1984), Coronado dropped from the 2-A to the 1-A division and found instant success. Coronado won section titles twice in the two seasons it competed at the 1-A level.
This year, Coronado has moved back to the 2-A South Bay League and continued to win. In fact, it can win the league championship when it plays host to Mar Vista tonight.