Terry Henigan, Irvine High School football coach, had planned to spend Sunday afternoon at Santa Anita. Henigan's offensive coordinator, Rick Curtis, had tickets for the Raider game in San Diego.
But members of Irvine's coaching staff had to change their plans when the Vaqueros were selected as the at-large entry by the Southern Section's playoff committee for this week's Southern Conference playoffs.
Sunday became a work day for the coaches, who began preparation for their first-round opponent, top-seeded Santa Ana (9-1), by exchanging game film and planning strategy.
Irvine (5-5) won only two games in the South Coast League and finished fourth but was included in the 16-team field based on the strength of its schedule and the success of the league's six members in nonleague competition.
"To be honest, I called this morning to see if we had been selected, and I was shocked when they told me we were in," Henigan said. "I compiled a list of how well the South Coast League has done in the playoffs over the past few years.
"I pointed out that we beat Westminster, Saddleback and Villa Park in nonleague games, and they're all in the playoffs."
Westminster (6-4) qualified for the Big Five Conference playoffs, Saddleback (5-4-1) qualified for the Central Conference playoffs and Villa Park (7-3) qualified for the Southern Conference playoffs.
"I also noted that our league's last-place team (San Clemente) beat the Sea View League champion (Corona del Mar) and our fifth-place team (Dana Hills) beat the Pacific Coast League champion (Laguna Beach)."
Despite Irvine's strong case, Henigan still had some doubts. El Dorado (6-3-1) of the Empire League and Warren (7-3) of the San Gabriel Valley League appeared to be strong candidates based solely on won-lost records.
"I think the committee has based its decision primarily on won-lost records in the past," Henigan said. "I think the success of Capo Valley, Mission Viejo and El Toro and the fact that we played them evenly was the deciding factor."
Though the Vaqueros drew Santa Ana, Henigan wasn't complaining.
"We're just happy to be playing another week," he said. "After the teams we've played this season, we won't be intimidated."
The playoff picture in the Southern Conference changed radically in the final week of the season. Capistrano Valley and Santa Monica, ranked first and second in the conference's top 10 most of the year, wound up third in their leagues.
Capistrano Valley (8-2) lost two games in three days when it forfeited a 22-21 victory over El Toro and then lost to Mission Viejo, 28-21.
Santa Monica (8-1) figured to gain the top seeding, but the Vikings lost to Hawthorne, 45-20, in their final game and then lost a coin flip to Beverly Hills to determine the Ocean League's No. 2 representative.
The losses left Santa Ana (9-1) as the conference's top-seeded team with Mission Viejo (9-1) seeded second. Los Alamitos (9-1) is seeded third, and defending champion El Toro (8-2) fourth.
The top bracket, featuring Santa Ana, Santa Monica and Hawthorne, appears to be much stronger than the lower bracket.
"I saw the Hawthorne-Santa Monica game and both teams were impressive," said Bob Johnson, El Toro coach. "They both have more speed than anybody down here."
John Barnes, Los Alamitos coach, also attended the game. He said Hawthorne's option quarterback, Curtis Conway, was impressive.
"I'd say there are about 10 teams in this conference who could win it, so I don't think anybody can complain about their draw," Barnes said.
The Big Five Conference features a first-ever meeting between Huntington Beach (6-4) and host Servite (7-2-1) Saturday night at Gahr High School.
Huntington Beach, led by the rushing of tailback Jason McGehee, is making its first appearance in the playoffs since another quality back, Danny Thompson, led the Oilers to the Sunset League title in 1983.
The Sunset League's three representatives--Marina, Edison and Westminster--were eliminated in the first round last season. This year, only league champion Fountain Valley is considered a favorite to win its first-round game against at-large entry Rubidoux.
"I don't think we're all that good, but on the other hand, we're not as bad as some people think we are," said George Pascoe, Huntington Beach coach. "There isn't an easy team on this draw sheet."
Three undefeated teams--Fontana, Bishop Amat and Loyola--are seeded first, second and third with defending champion Crespi (8-1-1) fourth.
Defending champion Bolsa Grande, which has 19 consecutive victories, was seeded first in the Central Conference, and Valencia, the last team to beat Bolsa Grande, was seeded second.
Bolsa Grande (10-0) concluded the school's first undefeated regular season with a 48-0 victory over Kennedy. Bolsa Grande, ranked second in the Orange County Sportswriters Assn. poll last week, ended the regular season as the county's only undefeated team.