A quarterback with a legacy and a coach making his third straight appearance in a City final will meet a rising star and an equally respected coach for the 3-A City high school football championship Saturday at 4 p.m. at East Los Angeles College.
For Franklin, quarterback Ronnie Lopez follows his brother and Coach Armando Gonzalez followshimself into the game. Top-seeded Palisades and Coach Jack Epstein are countering with junior quarterback Perry Klein, who has completed 67% of his passes for 3,702 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Gonzalez won the 2-A title, took a two-year sabbatical from coaching, then guided the Panthers to the 3-A championship in 1986, only to forfeit it for using an ineligible player in a first-round game. That team featured Ricky Lopez, a quarterback who later became the division player of the year.
This season, Ronnie has already been named co-MVP of the Freeway League, with All-City election a clear possibility. He has completed 107 of 173 passes for 1,779 yards, 16 touchdowns and has thrown only 5 interceptions in helping the team to a 9-1 record.
To reach this point, Franklin has packaged him with running back Lamont Lovett, who has three straight 100-yard games; an offensive line that hasn't allowed a sack in three games; and a defense that has given up an average of only 163 yards a game in total offense and only 66.3 yards passing a game, which is of particular note with Klein on the horizon.
"We have something to show people, that it was an error that cost us the title (last season)," said Gonzalez, who handles the offense while co-Coach Robin Cardona is in charge of the defense. "We want to show people that we have a good football program and that we can come back and repeat. We used (the forfeit) as motivation."
Apparently, that motivation worked, because Franklin advanced this far despite that 16 of last season's starters graduated.
The key for Palisades, of course, has been Klein. The 6-foot 2 1/2-inch, 170-pounder has used shovel passes and a sophisticated offense that, at times, has five possible receivers in the pattern to set several national and state passing records in his first season as a high school quarterback. He has had nine straight 300-yard games and an average of 331 yards a game.
"This is probably the most exciting high school team I've ever seen," said Epstein, whose Dolphins are 9-2. "I'd like to go up in the stands and watch them if I could. . . . The quarterback and the receivers, we are a very gifted team in those areas. No matter what the score is, I always feel we can come back from any deficit."
Franklin intends to pressure Klein, hoping he rushes his passes or, even better, gets sacked.
"All year long, we've been able to pressure the quarterback, and now we have to make sure their quarterback doesn't get plenty of time back there," Cardona said. "We'll be in trouble if he does. We have to go after him."