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MIKE PENNER

Keeping Streak Alive Isn't Getting Any Easier

October 28, 1994|MIKE PENNER

The record now stands at 42-0-1--weaving, wobbling, but, yes, still standing--and if you want to know the secret behind this undefeated streak at Los Alamitos High, John Barnes, the school's head football coach, will tell you this much:

The first 41 are the easy ones.

At 42, the weekly routine tends to get tougher, sort of like life itself.

Last week, the streak was down to its final 12 seconds before Los Alamitos' junior quarterback, Kevin Feterik, found Tony Hartley open in the Edison end zone, thereby trashing one whale of a bedtime story for the future children of those Edison football players.

Thursday night, the streak hadn't quite bit the dust, but it was certainly on its belly, ready for a taste test.

Archrival Esperanza had thrown everything it had at the streak--threw away its old coffee-grinder offense and replaced it with a four-wideout set that was the mirror image of Los Al's--and, for a few precious moments, had the Griffins beaten at their own game.

It was Esperanza 32, Los Al 28 with 1:57 to play and 83 yards of chewed turf staring the Griffins in the face.

On the Los Al sideline, Barnes squinted into the Veterans Stadium floodlights, watched 10,000 teen-agers and parents bob up and down with excitement and began to reflect on the streak.

Forty-two games without a defeat.

On the wall calendar, that's three years, almost to the day.

Some good times, Barnes said to himself.

And you know what?

This right here might be the best one yet.

"I was thinking to myself, 'What a great, great high school football game this is,' " Barnes said.

"Was I worried? No, I was really caught up in the game, enjoying it the whole way. This might have been the greatest game for the fans, either way, whoever wins, that I've ever seen. It was one of those games where you feel sorry somebody lost."

Just then, a loud burst of laughter ambushed Barnes.

"Now, I'm not saying I'm sorry they lost," Barnes giggled, wrapping an arm around a bystander, using him for support. "I won't go quite that far."

No, this one was sweet, all the way down to Feterik's game-winning touchdown pass to Stan Guyness with 1:15 left and Dax Houston's game-icing sack of Esperanza quarterback Chris Stretch with 52 seconds left.

That's another thing Barnes has learned about undefeated streaks. Even after 43 in a row, the taste never tires.

"I'm shocked to be undefeated," Barnes said after this one, a 35-32 triumph, was in the books.

"I never thought the streak would last this far. With Kennedy, Carson, Muir, Edison and Esperanza on our schedule, I thought we'd have been beaten by now."

But with 1:57 to play in a four-point game?

On first down, 83 yards to go?

Barnes insisted there was never a doubt.

"You kidding?" he said. "With the guys we've got, it's never over. In fact, I thought we might have gone down there and scored too quickly."

With Feterik and a four-deep fleet of wide receivers that turn opposing defensive coordinators gray before their time, Los Alamitos is capable of traveling huge distances in one sweep of the minute hand.

On this occasion, Feterik needed 42 seconds to go 83 yards. He got the first 31 by himself, on an improvisational scramble that prompted gasps of "Uh-oh" on the Aztec sideline.

One completion later and the ball was on the Esperanza 30, 1:21 on the clock.

Feterik drops back again and it's bombs over Edison all over again. His lob pass to Guyness in the right side of the end zone is perfectly placed, just over the head of defensive back Dahrin Footman--the cruelest of climaxes, considering how far Footman had taken the Aztecs with 156 rushing yards and two touchdowns on offense.

"Nobody ever said it was going to be easy," Barnes said.

"Nobody ever said this job was easy."

Ecstatic, Barnes bounced from point to point, topic to topic. He mentioned his mother, Theora, whom he had visited in the hospital earlier in the day.

"It's her birthday," Barnes beamed. "She had her radio plugged in and I know she listened to this one all the way.

"I hope we didn't give her a heart attack," he joked.

"I was probably the one who had the heart attack."

How much more can a coach, and a 43-game unbeaten streak, take?

"Who knows?" Barnes said. "I'm surprised to be this far.

"But the kids believe. I believe, too."

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