If you had said before the season that El Segundo High would be the last South Bay survivor in the CIF-Southern Section football playoffs, there would have been more than a few skeptics.
"It would have been hard to believe," said El Segundo Coach Steve Newell.
Believing is no problem now.
The surprising Eagles extended their Cinderella season Friday night with a 20-19, come-from-behind win over host Monrovia in the Northwestern Conference quarterfinals, while the rest of the area's teams--South Torrance, Hawthorne and Leuzinger--were all eliminated.
Aside from putting El Segundo in the semifinals Friday against No. 2-seeded Burroughs of Burbank, the victory also marked the first time the Eagles have won two straight football playoff games.
Is Newell satisfied? Not in the least.
"We're telling the players that they're good enough to be (conference) champs," he said. And this is from a coach whose team was picked to finish last in a preseason poll of Pioneer League coaches.
Because it has played both playoff games on the road, El Segundo (9-3) automatically has earned the home game against Burroughs (11-1), although Newell wasn't sure exactly where home would be.
Because of limited seating capacity at El Segundo, the game might be played at another site, possibly El Camino College, Newell said.
"We're looking at the possibility of bringing in portable bleachers," he said. "I think playing at home would be a nice way to go, so this little town could take part in this."
Trailing 19-14 late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles pulled out a win when quarterback Joe Montanez hit a diving Dave Lubs in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown with 1:54 remaining, minutes after a roughing-the-punter penalty kept the drive alive.
"These kids just fought like crazy, taking one thing at a time, and we came back and beat them," Newell said.
Earl Rhodes, Coast Christian's star running back, gets a ride home to Pasadena after every game from Coach Dan Pride, who usually tells the sophomore how he could have played better.
But after he rushed for 190 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints' 52-7 win over St. Margaret's in the Eight-Man Small Division title game at El Camino College, Rhodes wasn't worried about being criticized.
"I have a feeling there is nothing (Pride) can say about this game," he said. "We're CIF champs."
Said Pride: "I've been pushing these kids all year. I'm so happy for them."
Coast Christian finished with a 12-0 record and routed most of its opponents, leading to speculation that the Saints will be moved up to the Eight-Man Large Division.
The combination of quarterback Zak Krislock's injured thumb and a relentless Channel Islands running attack proved too much for South Torrance to overcome in the Coastal Conference quarterfinals at South.
Channel Islands (10-2), which was upset by South in the first round of the playoffs last season at Hueneme High, turned the tables with a 39-21 win to earn a spot in the semifinals against top-seeded Canyon (10-2).
Tailback Mike Wyrick scored all three touchdowns for South (9-3), including a 91-yard kickoff return, to finish the season with 19 TDs and more than 1,700 yards rushing.