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PREPS / ROB FERNAS

Coach Takes a Tumble, but North Torrance Has Yet to Fall

November 12, 1992|ROB FERNAS

There are a number of theories explaining the success of North Torrance's football team this season.

Some believe the Saxons' 9-0 record is the result of a dynamic offense that has produced big plays and an average of 33 points a game.

Others say North relies on an aggressive defense that has held opponents to nine points or less in five games, including two shutouts.

Then there is the bump-on-the-head theory, that somehow Coach Joe Austin became a more astute teacher of the game after falling down a flight of stairs a few weeks before the season.

"I hit my head, and when I woke up I was a genius," Austin said.

Austin can laugh about it now, but there was nothing funny about his fall outside a pizza parlor in Frazier Park, where he owns a cabin. He was hospitalized for a week with a head injury that caused some bleeding in the brain, forcing him to miss the first week of practice.

"I was wearing go-aheads (rubber sandals)," he said. "I caught a toe, and down I went. I was out for a while. I don't remember a lot about it."

Some might have interpreted the fall as an ominous sign. But three months later, Austin is enjoying the most successful season of his 20-year career as a prep football coach, and by far the most successful of his three seasons at North.

The Saxons, ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section Division IX media poll, have been the South Bay's only unbeaten team for several weeks.

At this point, Austin knows the question on everyone's mind. Can North go all the way?

"It would be nice to keep this thing going," he said. "The players are capable of doing it."

One of the teams standing in the Saxons' way is South Torrance, a rival school that Austin has more than a casual acquaintance with. He was a standout athlete at South and coached the Spartan football team for 17 seasons from 1972-88, compiling a 108-62-3 record and winning three league titles.

North and South, both 4-0 in league play, will meet Friday night at North for the Pioneer League title.

"Awful, isn't it?" Austin said of the impending showdown. "It scares me. They beat us the last two years. They're real physical up front. Defensively, they might be the best team we've faced. They're similar to Peninsula, but not quite as big.

"I haven't been able to beat them yet, but we have a chance."

A chance? Obviously, Austin hasn't let success go to his head.

*

North's 9-0 start is reminiscent of the 1982 West Torrance team that went 14-0 and won the Southern Section Coastal Conference title.

"I've thought about that, but I don't think anybody gave (West) a game," Austin said. "Nobody even came close."

Austin should know. His South team was one of West's victims that season, losing to the Warriors, 45-0, when the teams competed in the Bay League.

North hasn't been as dominant as the 1982 West team, but there are similarities. West also had an experienced coach, Fred Petersen, and a fine group of skill-position players that included quarterback Steve Center, wide receivers Loren Richey and Sean Berry and running backs John Combis and Jeff Studer.

North's balanced attack features quarterback Frank Ramirez, the area's second-leading passer with 1,811 yards and 21 touchdowns; wide receiver Dean Halverson, the area's leading receiver with 45 catches for 739 yards and seven TDs; and a talented group of running backs led by tailbacks Dano Casillas and Lacy Watkins, who also plays receiver, and fullback Chi Lam.

"We can hurt you in a lot of different ways," Austin said.

Said South Coach Don Morrow: "The scary thing is that they do so many things well on offense. They can throw all the passes and they can run the ball right at you. It's a nasty combination."

*

The North-South game has been referred to as the Civil War for obvious reasons, one of them being that players from both teams know each other.

Josh Waybright, a two-way starter at offensive lineman and linebacker for South, expects another emotionally charged game Friday night. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior played on the last two South teams that beat North.

"It's sort of a rivalry between us, Frankie (Ramirez), Dano (Casillas), Chi Lam, all those guys," Waybright said. "We all love each other, but we all hate each other. It's just going to be a hell of a game."

*

Hawthorne tailback Corey McCoy is expected to sit out Friday night's Bay League game against Leuzinger because of a sprained ankle, but Leuzinger Coach Steve Carnes remains skeptical of the injury report.

"Let's put it this way," Carnes said. "I'll believe it when I see it."

Carnes said even without McCoy, who has rushed for 1,335 yards and scored an area-leading 23 touchdowns, Hawthorne can move the football.

"With (McCoy), they're a great football team," Carnes said. "Without him, they're a little bit different team, but they still have so many weapons."

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