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Canoga Park Goes on Playoff Hunt : Powerful Sylmar Presents Last Obstacle to Clear for Automatic Berth

November 15, 1996|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CANOGA PARK — It is among the most interesting football playoff scenarios in the region:

If Canoga Park High defeats Sylmar tonight in the final regular-season game, the Hunters win the Valley Pac-8 Conference title and earn an automatic berth to City Section 4-A Division playoffs.

So why is that interesting?

For starters, upstart Canoga Park (6-3, 5-1 in conference) has had only one winning season (1992) in the past eight years and has qualified for the playoffs only four times in the past 10 years.

Yet, Canoga Park--one of the region's smaller City schools with an enrollment of about 1,750--would be forced to compete in the playoffs with the big boys, the teams with tradition and size to match.

Make no mistake, Canoga Park is a legitimate contender--for the 3-A title. But are the Hunters,who won only seven games in the previous three seasons, ready for the big time?

That's a question even Canoga Park Coach Rudy Lugo isn't ready to answer.

"Is this a 4-A team?" Lugo pondered aloud, while he eyed his squad at practice. "I'll probably be able to tell you that [tonight]."

To be sure, the speedy Hunters have the talent to upset Sylmar (7-2, 6-0), a perennial powerhouse and winner of 52 consecutive conference games. And no one knows that better than Sylmar Coach Jeff Engilman.

"Canoga Park plays a full 48 minutes," Engilman said. "And they have four or five excellent players."

"I think we're smaller than other 4-A teams, but we have the speed to hang with anybody."

During the summer, the Hunters were undefeated in passing-league games, including two victories over Taft (9-0), which probably will be one of the top-seeded teams in the 4-A playoffs.

But the Hunters were slow out of the gate this season, losing three of their first four games. before winning their next five.

"I think our kids have to make up their mind that nothing else matters except beating Sylmar for that moment," Lugo said. "And whatever comes after that, that's destiny."

The rest of the conference shapes up like this: While Sylmar, Canoga Park and Van Nuys (5-4, 4-2) have clinched playoff berths, North Hollywood (4-5, 3-3) gets the fourth playoff spot even if it loses to Reseda tonight because the Huskies defeated Monroe and Grant, the two teams that could finish tied with North Hollywood.

Last year, five teams from this conference made the playoffs . If the same holds true this year, Monroe (5-4, 2-4) could clinch the fifth spot with a victory over Poly (1-8, 1-5).

Playoff pictures for other leagues and conferences involving area teams look like this:

NORTHWEST VALLEY CONFERENCE

Barring a major upset, Taft (9-0, 6-0), Kennedy (6-3, 5-1) and El Camino Real (6-3, 4-2) should receive 4-A berths. The Toreadors are one of three undefeated City teams and will likely be seeded No. 2, behind San Pedro. With a victory, Kennedy might have a chance at a top-eight seeding--and a first-round home game. As a third-place team, El Camino Real will probably play a conference champion.

Even with a loss to Taft tonight, Chatsworth (4-5, 3-3) should receive a 3-A spot along with Birmingham (4-5, 2-4), which should defeat Cleveland (3-6, 1-5). San Fernando (3-6, 2-4) has an outside shot at the 3-A playoffs because of a nonconference win over Jefferson (7-2), the first-place team in the Southeastern Conference.

Cleveland and Granada Hills have slim chances to make the 3-A field. Both need victories tonight.

NORTHERN CONFERENCE

Franklin (8-1, 6-0) has clinched the conference title and a 4-A berth. Verdugo Hills (5-4, 4-2) has probably secured a 3-A berth, but a victory over Wilson today moves the Dons into second place and a higher seeding. Wilson (6-3, 5-1) and Eagle Rock (6-3, 4-2) are also locks for the 3-A playoffs.

ALPHA LEAGUE

L.A. Baptist (6-3, 3-0) is the only team that has clinched a playoff berth. Only a loss to Maranatha (4-5, 1-2) would keep Village Christian (7-2, 2-1) out. Kilpatrick (2-6, 2-1) can clinch a berth with a win over L.A. Baptist or by winning a three-way coin flip (if necessary).

Maranatha needs an upset over Village Christian and help (either a Kilpatrick victory or a coin flip) to qualify.

CHANNEL LEAGUE

Ventura (8-1, 6-0) and Dos Pueblos (8-1, 5-1) have clinched the top two spots, their order of finish to be determined by their matchup tonight at Dos Pueblos. Rio Mesa (7-2, 4-2) has clinched third place.

If Dos Pueblos beats Ventura, they're co-champions, with Dos Pueblos claiming the No. 1 berth because it defeated Ventura. Rio Mesa can tie Dos Pueblos for second place, but Dos Pueblos defeated Rio Mesa, so they will finish second and third for playoff purposes. Even if Rio Mesa loses Friday to San Marcos and finishes tied with Buena for third, Rio Mesa goes to the playoffs because it beat Buena. Buena is still in contention for the league's at-large berth, provided they win and improve to 5-5.

Oxnard (1-8, 1-5) last week was forced to forfeit eight games for using an ineligible player and is out of the picture.

FOOTHILL LEAGUE

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