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Taft Beats Crespi on Strength of Relles' First Kick


In the opening game of the season, it's a safe assumption there will be plenty of firsts.

Taft High had a few Friday night--and needed them, one and all.

The Toreadors kicked their first field goal in two seasons under Coach Troy Starr--their first from a rookie kicker--and held off Crespi, 3-0, in a nonleague opener at Taft.

With the Crespi defense swarming all over tailback Jerry Brown, the offense was left to junior kicker Jon Relles, who banged home a 25-yard field goal with 4 minutes 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

For Relles, a soccer player recruited out of assistant coach Frank Grossman's biology class last spring, it was his first football game. And first attempt. And first knot in the throat.

"I heard he was an intense competitor," Grossman said. "And a great soccer player."

There was plenty of kicking, to be sure. In fact, the game was mostly a battle between punters. Taft gained 175 yards, 29 on the ground. Crespi managed only 157 yards.

"They were completely plugging the middle," Taft quarterback Mike Ferguson said. "It was just a huge rush. A helluva rush.

"I had no clue there'd be this little offense."

A little, as it turned out, was enough. But not by much. Brown, the City Section 3-A Division player of the year in 1992 as a sophomore, was buried early and often by the Crespi linebacking corps and held to 38 yards in 16 carries.

He was stopped for negative yardage or no gain on six of his 16 carries. Time for Plan B.

"They forced us to throw," Starr said. "And I think we threw better than anybody's seen us throw."

Most of the aerial damage was done by senior receiver Andre DeSaussure, a speed-burner who caught five passes for 106 yards. DeSaussure, a transfer from Royal who won City track titles in the 100, 200 and 400 meters last spring, kept the Taft offense from stalling completely in the second half.

"We'll take it," Starr said. "It's a huge step for us. This is the first time we've beaten an outstanding team."

Crespi went down kicking and screaming, however. On their final, manic, last-ditch possession, the Celts took over at their 23-yard line with 1:39 left. Quarterback Dave Lins completed a pair of passes and scrambled 12 yards as Crespi moved past midfield with less than a minute left.

On second and 10 from the Taft 37, he was pressured in the pocket while throwing down the middle and the ball was intercepted by Dwyer McKeith at the 13 with 20 seconds left.

"We knew they were going to throw," said Taft defensive back DaShon Polk, another All-City pick as a sophomore last year. "Their quarterback was throwing ducks all day. We had to get the pick."

Pickings were equally slim for Crespi tailback Shaun Williams, who was making his first start. Williams drew as much of a crowd in the offensive backfield as counterpart Brown and finished with 18 yards in seven carries.

Taft appeared to have put the game away with 8:58 left. Ferguson, who completed seven of 22 passes for 136 yards, connected with Dayon Shaw on a perfectly thrown fade pass from the 12, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty.

In a defining moment later during the same possession, Crespi was flagged for an illegal substitution after Taft punted from its 47 with 1:49 left. Officials picked up the ball after assuming Starr would take the penalty, which would have left Taft with a fourth-and-three play.

Not with the way the offenses were struggling. No thanks.

"We don't want it," pleaded Starr as he declined the penalty. "Make them take it."

Crespi took it--on the chin.

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