Bishop Amat High School of La Puente has carried its recent football legacy like a leg weighted down with a plaster cast, the result of having fallen one too many times.
For two straight years, Bishop Amat has won the tough Angelus League and its first 11 games, only to see its hopes for a perfect season end with a loss in the Big Five Conference quarterfinals.
So guess who has reached the quarterfinals again with an 11-0 record? The Lancers, of course, who will play host to Fountain Valley (7-4) tonight at 7:30.
Mark Paredes, Bishop Amat coach, is accentuating the positive as his team tries to clear the quarterfinal hurdle for the first time since 1983, when the Lancers lost to Servite of Anaheim in the Big Five final.
"We don't look at it (two straight years of losing in the quarterfinals) as being a monkey on our backs," said Paredes, the first coach to take Bishop Amat, a school with a rich tradition, to three straight league titles. "We look at each game as it comes. Let me put it this way: We didn't get beat by a jinx last year. We got beat by Eisenhower, a very good team.
"The only ones who talk about it are the fans and newspaper people. As I told the booster people a couple weeks ago, teams don't always get to the semifinals, and teams don't always get to the finals. When you get into the playoffs, things don't always go right. Instead of focusing on what we haven't done, I think people should focus on what we have done right."
Much of what Bishop Amat has done right is because of Paredes and his coaching staff. The Lancers, after all, have a defense that graduated eight starters from 1986 and, while small, has been successful this year, allowing just 90 points in the 11 games (8.2 per game). Safeties Stephon Pace and Ruben Duran and tackles Kevin Szalonek and Aron Gideon led the Lancer defense.
All the offense has done is lose Eric Bieniemy, a two-time All-Southern Section running back, to graduation and barely miss a beat. This year, Bishop Amat has scored 290 points in 11 games (26.4 per game). The key has been the new running back, Mazio Royster, who has gained 1,544 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.
"He just seems to be getting better and better," Paredes said of Royster, who rushed for 707 yards and a 6.7 average last season as Bieniemy's understudy. "We're real pleased with him. At the beginning of the year, we didn't think he would be the major factor of the team. In terms of leadership and importance to the offense, he has really come on."
So has the offensive line, which returned just one player from 1986. Quarterback J.R. Phillips doesn't have dazzling statistics (45% completion rate, 8 touchdowns with 8 interceptions), but "has the knack of pulling out the big one when he needs it," Paredes said. One number in Phillips' favor is his 16.9-yard average per completion.
The Lancers will be playing a Fountain Valley team that started 0-4 but has since won seven straight. The Barons are led by the Sunset League's most valuable player, quarterback David Henigan, and the league's defensive player of the year, tackle Reza Mehdizadeh.
Fifty years ago today, one of the greatest events in high school sports history took place in Chicago.
A record crowd estimated at 120,000 packed Soldier Field on Nov. 27, 1937, to watch Austin High of Chicago beat Leo of Chicago, 26-0, in a game that featured Bill De Correvont of Austin, one of the most publicized prep stars up to that time. Another attraction was the rare matchup between the champion of the Chicago Public League, Austin, and the champion of the Chicago Catholic League, Leo, to settle to city title.
At the time, Soldier Field had a capacity of 76,000. But on this day, when the temperature was unseasonably warm, children squeezed in two or three per seat, the aisles were packed and a ring of standing-room only watchers lined the top of the entire stadium, six deep.
Wrote Edward Burns in the Nov. 28, 1937, Chicago Tribune, in prose typical of early sportswriters: "The size of the crowd amazed even the most enthusiastic sponsors of the game. The ballyhooing of De Correvont attracted thousands of football fans and the rivalry of the public and Catholic high schools lured thousands of others. But still these lures would set up an expectancy of not more than 75,000. The tip-off, if there were 120,000 present, perhaps is to be found in the political character of ticket sales. Such events are always oversold. Many are expected to 'eat' tickets allotted to them. Apparently all the gents so slugged made use of their tickets, beckoned by the pleasant weather and the aforementioned other attractive items."
De Correvont scored four touchdowns and went on to Northwestern with Austin teammate Alf Bauman, who became a two-time All-American tackle. The top Leo player was John Galvin, who later attended Purdue and led the nation in punting.
The Mayor's Prep Bowl, as the annual benefit game was known, raised an estimated $110,000 that year.