The marquee in front of Burbank High on Saturday morning reflected the spirit of a team on a six-game winning streak.
"Bulldogs No. 1," the sign read, the letters neatly centered. "CIF here we come."
At the opposite end of the school, Burbank players gathered on the bleachers outside their locker room. Swallowing doughnuts by the dozen and shoving each other good-naturedly, the Bulldogs chatted enthusiastically about their upcoming season finale against cross-town rival Burroughs. On Friday night, the Bulldogs lost a close game to Foothill League champion Hart, 17-14. Hart stomped Burroughs, 19-0, two weeks earlier.
Inside the locker room, Coach Dave Carson ran a projector backward and forward, studying the film of the Hart game before inviting the players in for a two-hour screening session. For the Bulldogs, everything was business as usual.
"What else can we do?" guard Cory Kessinger said. "We've got to go out and play like nothing ever happened."
It will not be easy. In Carson's finest season in five years as coach, Burbank was 6-2 and had won its first three league games before Friday night.
But Burbank won't be going anywhere after the Burroughs game. The Bulldogs are in the doghouse.
Because Burbank used an academically ineligible player, Carson and the Bulldogs will forfeit their six victories. Burbank (0-9, 0-4), which would have finished second with a win over Burroughs, suddenly finds itself in the league cellar.
"It was hard on the kids when we told them," Carson said. "They cried. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
Anthony Koulax, a transfer from Hoover High, was discovered on Wednesday to be ineligible because of his academic record at Hoover. Koulax, a junior defensive lineman and a starter, failed four classes at Hoover and was unable to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average. According to Southern Section bylaw 205, student-athletes must maintain a 2.0 GPA in 20 semester units.
"We're not blaming him," Kessinger said. "It's not his fault. It was the fault of the administration."
Said Koulax: "I'm just mad at the administration because they didn't tell me I couldn't play. If it were all my fault, I'd probably go back to Hoover. I couldn't look the other guys in the face."
Carson blamed the situation on an "administrative error." Carson said he was aware of Koulax's poor academic record when Koulax transferred in August. Koulax's transcript from Hoover, however, had not yet arrived at Burbank.
"Sometimes when kids transfer their paper work doesn't catch up with them," Carson said. "We figured, 'As far as we know, we'll treat him as an eligible player until we learn otherwise.' We should have done something right then."
Carson said that no attempts were made by Burbank to obtain Koulax's transcript. When an unofficial transcript surfaced among Koulax's health records Wednesday, Burbank assistant principal Jim Perske called the matter to Carson's attention. Then he called the Southern Section office.
"The CIF says you have to police yourselves," Carson said. "That's what we did. We policed ourselves.
"It was a screwball case. We're all to blame; myself, the boy, the administration. We made a big mistake and now the kids have to pay for it. My job is to get them pumped back up again."
The Bulldogs, angered by the ruling, need little pumping to prepare for Burroughs.
"You can't print some of the things we want to say," said tailback Gabe Jimenez, Burbank's leading ballcarrier with 1,035 yards. "We're going to go out and crush 'em."
After being told Thursday that their season was a complete wash, the Bulldogs gave Hart its toughest league game of the year.
"They came out as though they had nothing to lose," Hart Coach Rick Scott said. "They were throwing on fourth and inches. They were tough."
Koulax, who played in all six of Burbank's victories after an 0-2 start, did not play against Hart. He said his grades have improved although his five-week progress report was "just a shade under 2.0."
"If I would have never come over here, the other guys wouldn't have to go through this," Koulax said. "But they've patted me on the back and told me not to worry about it. It just seems like somebody doesn't want Burbank to go to the playoffs."
Said Carson: "We may be 0-9 on paper, but we're 6-3 in our hearts. Personally, as long as I know we're doing a good job, that's all that matters."
Footbrawl: Not only was the Saugus homecoming crowd at College of the Canyons treated to the Centurions' Golden League game against Quartz Hill, they received a bonus for their admission price: Friday night at the fights.
In both the sophomore and varsity games, brawls erupted between Saugus and Quartz Hill players. The bench-clearing melee during the varsity game with 2:50 to play brought an end to the game.
"I'm willing to accept our end of the blame for it," said Dick Flaherty, first-year coach at Saugus. "I was very displeased with our kids in the locker room. I chewed them out royally."