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November 23, 1989|STEVE HENSON

Joe Smigiel was at his blocking and tackling best last Friday night at Palos Verdes. The two-way Newbury Park High strongman would chaperon scatback Walter Thomas through a hole, then turn around and lay a crunching hit on an opposing runner.

Newbury Park defeated Palos Verdes, 19-9, for its first playoff victory since 1983. The outcome was not decided until midway through the fourth quarter, however. Not until Smigiel unclenched his fists enough to deftly take a handoff from quarterback Jai Johnston on a tackle-counter play and ramble seven yards for the final touchdown.

Twice this season the play has been called, and twice Smigiel (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) has scored. The novelty was spawned from a traditional counter play that wasn't working the way it was designed.

"We were trying to run a play to the tailback, where he starts one way to give the guard and tackle time to pull, then counters back and follows the tackle through the hole," Coach George Hurley said. "Well, the guard was making his block and Smigiel was getting through the hole untouched, but the hole was closing behind him before the tailback could get through."

The Panther coaching staff studied films, attempting to find a solution. One assistant said in exasperation, "We may as well give the ball to Smigiel."

The coaches stared at one another. We may as well give the ball to Smigiel!

So Friday night against Santa Barbara, Smigiel, who will probably be the most highly recruited lineman in Ventura County, will be counted upon to lay the crucial blocks, as usual. He will be counted upon to make big tackles, as usual.

And he may very well be called upon to score another touchdown.

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