This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen in the Desert-Mountain Conference. Not if you had checked with anyone north of Oxnard.
Central Californians were geared up for a championship rematch between reigning Atascadero High School and last year's runner-up, St. Joseph's of Santa Maria. All those teams had to do was dispense with some upstarts from the Southland in the semifinals and they were in the big game.
But that isn't how it turned out. Last Friday night, Woodbridge High School of Irvine (12-1) easily defeated Atascadero, 40-0, and Chaminade of Canoga Park (11-2) beat St. Joseph's, 20-13. So, this Friday, the Desert-Mountain conference championship will be played at that parched, rugged, desert-like location, Irvine High School at 7:30 p.m..
"No one from the sports writers covering Atascadero to the guy at the local gas station had us favored (in the semifinal)," Woodbridge Coach Gene Noji said. "I thought it would be a close game."
It wasn't. Woodbridge dominated Atascadero, jumping to a 26-0 lead at halftime. Rather than being hurt by the cold, wet conditions, the Warriors capitalized on six Greyhound turnovers, turning four into touchdowns.
Woodbridge has been surprising opponents all season. The Warriors--who have made it to the playoffs twice in their seven-year history, losing in the second round in 1983 and 1986--lack superstars and have struggled against injuries in key positions. Yet they were one of just three undefeated Orange County teams going into the final regular-season game.
Woodbridge lost that game to Laguna Beach, 24-17, thus losing the Pacific Coast League championship, but has rolled in the playoffs, beating St. Genevieve of Panorama City, 35-0, and Paso Robles, 33-25, before defeating Atascadero.
Despite three changes at quarterback, the Warriors have maintained a strong passing game to complement the running of tailback John Rios, who has gained 1,054 yards in 173 carries.
Starting quarterback Eric Brougher broke his leg in the third game of the season and was replaced by junior Fred Schweer. Schweer, in nine starts, has completed 71 of 139 passes for 930 yards and 11 touchdowns, but missed the Paso Robles game with a bruised kidney. He was replaced by starting wide receiver Derrick Odum, who passed for 220 yards, but Schweer returned to pass for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half last week and will start against Chaminade.
Woodbridge's defense, whose hard hitting forced Atascadero's turnovers, has not allowed a touchdown in eight of its games and has had five shutouts this season.
Chaminade, which has made it to the playoffs the last three years and lost in the second round to Bloomington last year, was undefeated in six Santa Fe League games. In the playoffs, the Eagles opened with a 49-6 blowout of Santa Paula, then defeated Riverside La Sierra, 27-20, in the second round.
Chaminade's offense is built around Tim Lavin, a 205-pound tailback who has rushed for a school-record 1,713 yards in 234 carries and scored 25 touchdowns. Another offensive weapon is Chris Noonan, a wide receiver, kicker and punter. Noonan has caught 16 passes for 382 yards, has a field goal range of up to 54 yards and is averaging more than 42 yards a punt.
Chaminade also has changed quarterbacks. Senior Dave Morrison, who started nine games and completed 56 of 120 passes for 742 yards, was injured and replaced by junior Greg Baumgartner. In four games, Baumgartner has completed 27 of 52 passes for 486 yards. He will start Friday.
The Eagles' defense has held eight opponents to 10 points or fewer and has recorded two shutouts.