Expectations at Fontana High School were high from the start, with the Steelers returning a good portion of the football team that made it to the Big Five Conference semifinals in 1986. So high, you could see the potential for trouble coming a mile away.
"If we win by 50 points, we're dumb," Coach Dick Bruich said in September, "If we win by less then 50, we're even dumber. . . . This is the year you must produce."
Now, this much can be said for sure: This is the year Fontana did produce.
The Steelers, playing solidly from the start, had a 14-0 record and won the Big Five title. After being second-ranked in the Southern Section in the preseason and top-ranked since the second week, Fontana finishes as the No. 1 team in The Times' final combined City-Southern Section rankings.
No dummies there.
The season-ending top 20:
1. Fontana (14-0), Big Five champion. Plenty of talent, but no superstars, and that proved to be more than enough. Faced a good schedule and answered every challenge. What more could you want?
2. Carson (11-1), City 4-A runner-up. One bad game, at the wrong time. Had the best group of linebackers in the City or Southern Section and several standouts at other positions.
3. El Toro (12-2), Southern Conference champion. Lost twice, 10-7 and 9-7, when Bret Johnson, the best quarterback in the area, was sidelined with a knee injury. The other defeat, later overturned on a forfeit, was to a very good Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley team. Thought not as talented as the Charger team that finished No. 1 in 1986, El Toro proved its ability this season when it counted most--the playoffs.
4. Santa Ana (11-2), Southern Conference semifinalist. Lost to El Toro on a last-second pass but probably had the most talent in the conference. Crushed Santa Monica in the quarterfinals. The other loss came against Newport Harbor, 15-14, in the season opener, but the team came back to thrash Mater Dei of Santa Ana and Mission Viejo within the next three weeks.
5. Encino Crespi (10-1-1), Big Five semifinalist. Despite a substantial drop in talent from the team that won the title last season, the Celts overcame the loss of starting quarterback/defensive back Rob O'Byrne and star running back Russell White, who missed almost three quarters of one game and all of another because of an injury, to reach the semifinals. Just missed a second trip to the final.
6. Loyola (11-1), Big Five quarterfinalist. Fell victim to the run of playoff upsets in the conference, but, thanks primarily to the Josh Price-led defense, finished the regular season second-ranked in the Southern Section. Along the way, the Cubs shut down White and Crespi and the versatile offense of Antelope Valley.
7. Thousand Oaks (12-1-1), Coastal Conference champion. Break up the Lancers. Any team that beat Granada Hills and Canyon of Canyon Country in the nonleague schedule and Palmdale and Antelope Valley in the playoffs had to be doing something right.
8. Granada Hills (9-3), City 4-A champion. Split with Carson, both times showing the talent of quarterback Jeremy Leach and the depth of the receiving corps. In the end, the Highlanders became something along the lines of the people's choice--many were happy to see someone other than Carson or Banning win the title.
9. Los Alamitos (12-2), Southern Conference runner-up. Had a three-point loss to Tustin, 10-7, in the second week and didn't lose again until the final. Outstanding defense.
10. Fountain Valley (9-4), Big Five runner-up. Got hot at the end and, for three quarters, played Fontana tough in the title game.
11. Mission Viejo (11-2), Southern Conference semifinalist. Beat Johnson-less El Toro and backed that up with a victory over Todd Marinovich and Capistrano Valley in its regular-season finale.
12. Bishop Amat (11-1). Oh, those Big Five Conference quarterfinals--where the undefeated Lancers were upset for the third straight season. Mazio Royster had a standout season at running back, where he replaced Eric Bieniemy, a two-time All-Southern Section pick.
13. Long Beach Wilson (7-5), Big Five semifinalist. A Fountain Valley-like finish. Had consecutive victories over Eisenhower of Rialto and Loyola in the playoffs.
14. Santa Monica (9-2), Southern Conference quarterfinalist. Running back Glyn Milburn was unstoppable. The Vikings were, too--except in a key Ocean League game against Beverly Hills and in the playoffs against Santa Ana.
15. Capistrano Valley (8-3, with one loss by forfeit). Lost in first round of the Southern Conference playoffs, but that can't cancel the team that was No. 1 in the conference during most of the regular season and had plenty of talent, led by quarterback Marinovich and running back Tommy Adams.
16. Arroyo Grande (10-2-1), Northwestern Conference champion. Had a good line and a running game to go with quarterback Jamie Martin. Started 0-1-1 but came back to beat Santa Clarita Hart and Burbank Burroughs back-to-back on the road in the playoffs.