Joel Schaeffer would like to see this year's Reseda High football team come back and play again next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. . . .
"If I could have this same team every year of my life, I'd take it," the Regents' coach said.
But if Schaeffer is going to experience a coach's Twilight Zone, he should hope for a better-scripted ending.
Westchester beat Reseda, 21-13, in the City Section 2-A Division championship Saturday at East Los Angeles College. And the players on the best team Schaeffer said he has coached in 17 seasons at Reseda must go their separate ways.
"This is the best bunch of kids that I've ever coached my whole life," Schaeffer said. "I'd rather be with these guys than anyone else."
This year's seniors helped Reseda win last year's City championship and make it to the championship again this year. Led by David Wilson--last year's City 2-A player of the year--and All-City running back Ronald Wilkinson, the Regents bulldozed many teams and squeaked by others in winning their last 13 games.
But against Westchester--a team Reseda beat, 10-0, earlier this season--the Regents' magic disappeared.
"Things just didn't go our way, the way we're used to," Schaeffer said.
Westchester was ahead, 7-0, at the end of the first half and led, 21-7, by the start of the fourth quarter.
"They caught us off guard," Wilkinson said. "We figured we could come back, but they caught us off guard."
Reseda still had 11:30 left to score two touchdowns, and, considering that the Regents had won three games this season on late scores, a comeback seemed very possible. In a 36-26 victory over Sylmar, in fact, Reseda scored four touchdowns in the last 13 minutes.
And when backup quarterback Mike Shwartzer connected with Wilson on a 41-yard score a few minutes later it looked like Reseda might pull out another miraculous finish. "Out of what happened in the past, we knew we could come back and still win," Wilkinson said. "We never gave up."
But it soon became apparent that Reseda had exhausted its quota of magic.
On the extra-point attempt, the snap sailed over the holder's head. Reseda's defense held Westchester on its next possession and Reseda could have had the ball near midfield with 2:06 left, but a clipping call on the punt return put the Regents back to their 22.
"I think we were expecting to win, down to the end," Schaeffer said.
Three plays later, Reseda was instead looking at fourth and eight. Shwartzer, who had replaced starter Coley Kyman on Reseda's previous possession, dropped back and threw a strike to Wilson about 10 yards upfield.
Wilson, who had a team-high 24 catches this season and who had caught 15 scoring passes of 40 yards or more during his career, dropped the pass.
"We had confidence all the way through the game," linebacker Shawn Peet said. "It just didn't happen."
And although they lost, Schaeffer would be happy to play another season with this year's Regents.
"It's like when you go to Disneyland," he said. "You hope the day never ends."
On Saturday, the gates to Reseda's Magic Kingdom closed.