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The Silly Season : County Prep Football Races Didn't Turn Out as Predicted

November 14, 1995|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It has been an unusual football season.

At one time, Marina and Los Alamitos were tied in the Sunset League standings.

Santa Ana Valley won a Century League title, its first title in 17 years.

Cypress qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1980, only to discover it had an ineligible player and forfeited the victories that pushed it into the playoffs--on the final night of the season.

Valencia didn't make the playoffs for the first time since 1980. After winning 81% of its games the past 10 years--the fifth-best total in the Southern and City sections--the Tigers went 3-7; in the previous 10 seasons, they had gone 106-22-3.

For the second consecutive year, Loara reached the playoffs because of another team's forfeits. And Loara will try to stage its second consecutive first-round upset.

That's the kind of year it was, the kind that would have put the Psychic Hotline out of business. The regular season was filled with one brow-raising event after another. And now the playoffs begin in what has been a totally unpredictable year.

Laguna Hills sophomore Michael Jones led the sophomore-laden Hawks to another Pacific Coast League title despite projections of a third-place finish. He also established a pace--averaging only 10 games over the next two seasons--to break the all-time career rushing record held by Valencia's Ray Pallares (5,397 yards in 1983-85). Jones' astonishing pace is 5,754 yards, excluding any playoff games. Laguna Hills is seeded fourth in the Division VIII playoffs, and is likely to get several playoff games over the next two years--beginning Friday.

Meanwhile, Reuben Droughns of Anaheim didn't even finish among the top 10 rushers in the county this season, but ended his career No. 2 on the all-time list with 4,915 yards--despite not being in the playoffs since his sophomore year.

Fullerton went undefeated in the Freeway League.

Newport Harbor, 14-0 last season and the Division V champions, lost five of its first six games on the field, though one was reversed by a forfeit; the Sailors (4-6) didn't make the playoffs.

Tustin, 1-9 last year, could have won the Golden West League title outright with a victory over Servite--the top-ranked team in Division V--in its final game, but it lost.

There were plenty of other surprising developments.

The Muddle at the Top

It was an easy call. Los Alamitos was the No. 1 team in Orange County. Case closed. Sealed shut. Put six feet under. It was the dominant team.

Then came Oct. 20, and a 21-17 victory by Esperanza over the Griffins. Playing Los Alamitos always brings out the best in Esperanza, and on this night, it brought out the Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen in the Aztecs' defense.

They sacked Los Alamitos quarterback Kevin Feterik 11 times. That was the most astonishing aspect of the game--the way Esperanza manhandled the Griffins, who also happened to be ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Esperanza, which had lost twice already, ascended to No. 2 in Orange County, right behind unbeaten Mater Dei.

Then Mater Dei lost at San Clemente, 23-17.

Esperanza, which had been ranked as low as eighth earlier in the season, was voted No. 1 by area sportswriters.

"Is there a dominant team in Orange County?" Esperanza Coach Gary Meek asked, then answered his own question: "No."

And it has been awhile since that was the case.

"On any given week, there's probably seven or eight teams in the county that could beat each other," San Clemente Coach Mark McElroy said.

Meek conceded several teams can make valid arguments to being No. 1--especially given the Aztecs' two losses; Fullerton, Kennedy, Laguna Hills, Los Alamitos, Mater Dei, University and Western have better records.

Is it more telling to have one bad night over the course of a season, as did Los Alamitos or Mater Dei, or two bad nights like Esperanza--or even San Clemente?

"My opinion is that it's great for high school football," Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "It teaches kids that there's always hope. Don't believe the newspapers, just go out and play the football game, which is what Esperanza proved."

Said Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes: "I think the most surprising thing this year is that Mater Dei lost."

The Undefeated

There was one team that didn't lose a regular-season game--Western went 10-0 for the first time since 1972, when the Pioneers' only loss in a 13-1 season was in the section final.

"I wouldn't have picked us to go undefeated," Coach Jim Howell said, "but I knew we would have a good team."

Western didn't play any of the county powers, and that led to the Pioneers not being ranked among the county Top 10 until Week 8--right before they were supposed to get their comeuppance from Savanna. The Pioneers won that game, 31-0.

"I thought this group was different because of the senior leadership," Howell said. "When you have that, it gives you an advantage--it doesn't mean you're going to be undefeated, but you feel like it will win some games for you that you might not otherwise be successful in."

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