Hart High, which travels to Long Beach City College tonight to tackle St. Anthony in the second round of the Southern Section playoffs, is hardly blazing a trail toward a championship the way it did last season.
A year ago, the Indians rolled over Arroyo Grande (38-0), Verbum Dei (52-12) and Santa Maria (21-7) before defeating Temple City, 40-27, for the Northwestern Conference title.
"We were," Hart Coach Rick Scott is fond of saying, "frightfully good."
Maybe so. But judging by Hart's inconsistency this season, the Indians aren't frightening anyone. In a 30-16 first-round win over Redondo, Hart (10-1) was rather sloppy. The Indians were penalized 17 times for 170 yards, mustered only 38 yards rushing and failed to score in the second half.
For the third consecutive week, quarterback Darren Renfro, the Southern Section's leading passer, threw for less than 200 yards. Renfro, who completed 13 of 23 passes for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns, admittedly played his worst game.
"I was frustrated," he said.
That frustration led to a heated argument with Scott after the game. Both parties declined comment on the exchange.
"It was just one of those things that happens with every kid," Scott said. "We had about seven other guys play their worst game of the year, also, but with Darren everybody makes a big deal out of it."
Including Scott, who has been touting his quarterback since the start of the season. Renfro, who missed most of last season because of a broken hand, was virtually unknown to Foothill League coaches. Scott, however, insisted that he would make an impact. And true to his coach's word, the senior left-hander has passed for 2,413 yards and 23 touchdowns.
"I was the only one who was saying 'Wait until you see my quarterback,' " Scott said. "And he's the best quarterback in the Southern Section."
In an effort to stop Hart's potent passing attack, defenses are beginning to blitz Renfro regularly, Scott said. Against Redondo, Renfro neglected to call audibles and, although he didn't throw an interception, repeatedly threw into heavy coverage.
"It got to the point where he was a little frustrated," Scott said. "He understands why he didn't play well.
"But I've had confidence in Darren from the very get-go and I still have confidence in him. I'm not going to get off that ship."
Renfro is likely to return to form. But Hart's running attack could get worse. The Indians have averaged only 94 yards rushing a game and less than 100 yards in three of the past four games, including minus-3 yards against Alhambra.
To compound matters, fullback Elliott Graeber broke his clavicle against Redondo and is out for the rest of the season. Tailback Craig Whitten, who leads Valley-area Southern Section receivers with 49 catches and also has rushed for 708 yards, might miss the rest of the season because of floating cartilage in his knee.
"Right now, we're looking at a sophomore backfield," Scott said.
Hart will go with Howard Blackwell at tailback and Scott Renfro, Darren's brother, at fullback. Blackwell joined the varsity early in the season and rushed for 124 yards against Arroyo before returning to the sophomore team. Scott Renfro has no varsity experience.
St. Anthony (9-2), co-champion of the Sunkist League, has won seven in a row and is coming off a 51-44 triple overtime win over Calabasas.