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Setting Their Sights on the Showdown

WSC Southern Division: Valley and Moorpark, both with 7-1 records, finally get down to deciding who's the top team in this race.

November 09, 1996|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — So it has come to this.

There was little doubt when the football season started that Valley and Moorpark colleges would battle for the Western State Conference Southern Division title.

Now it has come to pass. And run.

The regional rivals, both 7-1 overall and 4-0 in division play, meet tonight at 7 at Valley in what boils down to a championship game. Afterward, each team will have one game remaining against Santa Monica, a potentially pesky but inferior opponent.

"Just another game," Jim Fenwick, Valley's coach, said laughing.

As usual, Moorpark made it this far relying on its defense; Valley, its offense. But both are strong in other facets of the game, making it difficult to pinpoint weaknesses on either side.

"It's hard to find a little chink in [Valley's] armor," said Jim Bittner, Moorpark's coach. "The thing that everyone sees is their passing game, but they have a great running back and they block well up front."

Said Fenwick of Moorpark: "They are really loaded on offense compared to other years. You always knew about their defense, but they can hurt you on offense."

Valley, ranked fourth in the state, is defending division champion. The Monarchs, behind their run-and-shoot scheme, average 449.6 yards and have manhandled their past four opponents by a combined 224-26 margin.

Sophomore Dave Lins has passed for 1,707 yards and 16 touchdowns, and his 65.7% completion rate is by far the best in the WSC. But the Monarchs also are versatile.

Their running backs, particularly Marcus Harvey, are explosive ballcarriers and capable receivers. Harvey is third in the WSC with 849 yards rushing, first in rushing touchdowns with 13, and has nine receptions for 136 yards.

He owns Valley's career record with 2,922 all-purpose yards and needs 192 yards rushing to overtake all-time leader Dondre Bausley, who had 2,136 in 1986-87.

Last season, the Monarchs defeated Moorpark, 31-17, scoring twice on screen passes to running back Elijah Raphael. It was the third consecutive victory for Valley in the series after losing the previous five meetings.

"They must have 10 different screens they use against us because they know we are gonna come after them," Bittner said.

That, in a nutshell, is Moorpark's strength.

The Raiders, ranked eighth in the state, are fourth in the state in defense, allowing 216.6 yards. Moorpark torments quarterbacks with a quick and physical secondary that has intercepted 13 passes. The Raiders have given up two passing touchdowns and allow only 120.3 yards passing per game.

Moorpark already faced the run-and-shoot this season, beating Santa Barbara City, 56-24. But Bittner concedes that Valley's brand is tougher to defend.

"The major difference is the running back," Bittner said. "That's the great equalizer."

Bittner might have to find an equalizer if sophomore quarterback Taj Lewis can't play.

Lewis, who has 944 yards passing and 335 yards rushing, has struggled the past three weeks with a mysterious ailment that causes his body to swell after workouts and games. He hasn't missed a game, but he didn't practice strenuously this week.

"He's been going through blood tests," Bittner said. "I'm worried about him. . . . It makes me uncomfortable thinking we might be jeopardizing his health."

For Fenwick, neutralizing someone like Lewis will be a challenge the Monarchs haven't faced recently. While Moorpark's victories have come against teams with combined 16-33 records, Valley's last five opponents are 4-31 and have been blanked nine times.

"We haven't played any real competition for a while," Fenwick said.

"It's like the rebirth of our football season. I hope we can respond."

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