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Moments That Helped Shape the Prep Sports Year : A Defining Tackle

June 13, 1995|MIKE TERRY

As graduating seniors across Orange County prepare to toss their mortarboards and face the future, it's time to take a look back at the people, events and issues that helped make 1994-95 a remarkable year in county high school sports.

Few prep sports fans are likely to forget the accomplishments of Mater Dei in football and boys' and girls' basketball. The Monarchs won Southern Section titles in each sport, won the boys' Division I State championship in basketball and came within three points of winning the girls' Division I State title.

The football team finished 14-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Or the Woodbridge girls' basketball team, which returned to Oakland and avenged a 71-38 drubbing last year by beating Sacramento El Camino, 55-40, to win the Division II State championship.

Or Misty May, the most sought-after volleyball recruit in the nation, leading Newport Harbor to its first Division I State title. Or the girls' soccer team at Marina, extending its unbeaten streak to 61 matches in winning its third consecutive Division I championship.

Or the county record-breaking feats of track and field youngsters Bryan Harrison (Dana Hills sophomore, 100 meters) and Ashley Bethel (Mission Viejo freshman, 100 hurdles). Or Esperanza senior Courtney Pugmire's shattering of the 3,200-meter record by nearly 14 seconds.

Or the playoff success of the county's baseball teams, winners of four of six section titles. La Quinta and Fountain Valley became the first county teams to win back-to-back championships, on the same day at Anaheim Stadium. Or Marina and Woodbridge's victories in the Division I and II softball title games.

Or the continued domination of county schools in swimming and diving, with Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills earning Division I and II boys' championships.

Or Garden Grove breaking Alhambra Keppel's 115-match winning streak in badminton. The Argonauts ended Keppel's five-year reign as section champions with a 10-9 victory in the Division I title game.

County schools won 29 section titles and three State titles.

Members of The Times Orange County prep sports staff share their memories about the people, events and issues that made the greatest impression on them in the last 10 months.

*

A Defining Tackle

The steam was steadily rising from the sweaty, dirt-soaked white football uniforms of Orange Lutheran, made even more ghostly by the damp, 40-degree temperature in San Pedro. But if the Lancers were aware of the cold, they didn't show it. Something more pressing had their collective attention.

One more play stood between the Lancers' finishing their greatest season in the Southern Section Division X championship game, or finishing it on that dank, grimy Dec. 2 night.

The season had been a festive one. The Lancers finished the regular season 8-2, and had won their first Olympic League title. They already had survived two playoff challenges.

And here in the cold and dampness, Orange Lutheran and host San Pedro Mary Star of the Sea had fought for almost three hours to a scoreless standoff. A rock 'em, sock 'em semifinal that had generated 10 turnovers between the teams.

The game went into overtime--the California Tiebreaker, in which each team gets four downs from the other's 10-yard line. The Lancers scored on their first play as quarterback Joe Juliano swept around right end. With the extra point, Orange Lutheran led, 7-0.

Mary Star got the ball. It took three plays to get in, with tailback Danny Pulu scoring from five yards.

The Stars decided to go for a two-point conversion.

Despite the low-scoring game, the Lancers had been hurting all night on defense. Their best player, Nick Amato, could not play because of a severely sprained ankle he sustained the week before. Their next-best player was senior tackle Nick Griffith, who was slowed by neck and back injuries but playing.

"He only weighed 190 pounds, but was very quick and strong with great technique," Coach Jim Kunau said. "In many ways he typified our team; a quiet guy, didn't say very much, but had a real big heart. He would not quit or be denied."

On the two-point attempt, Mary Star lined up in a formation Orange Lutheran had not seen all night--a power I with two tight ends. "I'm not even sure we saw it on film," Kunau said. Quarterback Anthony DiLeva had the choice of passing, running the option or giving the ball to Pulu (who had rushed for 80 yards) to try to power through Orange Lutheran one last time.

One more play.

Before the Lancers took the field for the conversion, they huddled around their coaches. Orange Lutheran was not a hyper, rah-rah team to begin with, and there was no hollow boosting now. "We just reminded the kids of how hard they had worked to get there," Kunau said.

Griffith lined up in the gap between the right tackle and right guard, and waited for the snap.

The Stars were running an option play, and had faked to the fullback. Two blockers came out on Griffith to keep him out. But they misjudged his speed. Griffith stayed low and was able to split the blockers. He burst into the backfield, cornered the surprised DiLeva, and wrestled him to the ground at the 1-yard line.

"That play crystallized our season," Kunau said. "Under the circumstances and his situation--to have two of their best linemen come down on him to try and wall him off--if he doesn't make that play, I'm not sure we stop them."

It was Griffith's finest football moment, and maybe his last. Chronic back pain will not permit him to play college football--at least next season.

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