WASHINGTON vs. SYLMAR
At Sylmar High, 7:30 p.m.
With 14 starters returning, Sylmar appears poised for a run at another City Section 4-A title. Yet, the Spartans' first game will be among their toughest. Washington employs a multi-set offense, alternately running from wing-T, two-back and spread formations. Sylmar, which usually struggles in its opener, will have to quickly adjust. Washington out-gained Taft, 332 yards to 267, in a quarterfinal playoff game last year, but had five turnovers in a 33-21 loss. Sylmar could have one of the area's most potent offenses behind five strong returning linemen. Errol Bowen will start at tailback. Senior Joey LaPorte, also a linebacker, will get his first start at quarterback.
* BANNING vs. TAFT
At Taft High, 7 p.m.
Toreador Coach Troy Starr is convinced the Pilots, 0-10 last season, won't be pushovers. He might be right. Banning's frosh-soph team was undefeated the past two seasons and frosh-soph Coach Chris Gutierrez has taken over the varsity. "They could be like Narbonne," said Starr, referring to the once-downtrodden Gauchos who rode a similar path to success. Taft is coming of its most successful season in school history but must replace record-setting quarterback Nick DiPadova. Look for Taft to rely on a strong running game behind senior Sedric Hurns and junior Marquis Brignac.
* CAMARILLO vs. OXNARD
at Oxnard High, 7:30 p.m.
Camarillo is the defending Southern Section Division III champion, but Oxnard defeated the Scorpions last year. The Yellowjackets were 8-0-2 on the field but forfeited eight games because of an ineligible player. Oxnard returns tailback Desmond Davis, who rushed for 1,571 yards. Fullback-linebacker Chad Pierson also returns to the Yellowjacket backfield, and Adrian Maciel, whose transfer from Santa Clara caused the forfeits, will share time at quarterback with Joseph Rivas. Camarillo quarterback Garrett Valencia, a 6-foot-2 junior, replaces Joe Borchard, The Times' Ventura County player of the year. The Scorpions lost many key players but return 6-5 tight end Justin Denham and tailback John Howe, who rushed for 1,042 yards last season.
* CHAMINADE vs. CRESPI
At Pierce College, 7:30 p.m.
The teams last met in 1993, with Crespi winning. Each had losing records last year and has undergone offensive restructuring. Chaminade has switched from a power-pitch attack to the veer option, which will be piloted by senior quarterback Ray Rodriguez. John Perry and Matt Markis will see much time at running back and wide receiver-defensive back Justin Stewart bears watching. Crespi Coach Tim Lins is keeping his new offense under wraps but it will be led by senior quarterback Kevin Cork, who makes his varsity debut. Howard Johnson and Ron Lauer are likely to alternate at running back, with Blake Tibbetts at fullback.
* SANTA BARBARA vs. SAUGUS
At College of the Canyons, 7:30 p.m.
Longtime Channel League power Santa Barbara is attempting to bounce back from a 2-8 season. First-year Coach Ben Hallock has retained the Dons' veer offense, but has changed blocking schemes. As recently as Monday, Santa Barbara was using five quarterbacks and five running backs equally in practice. Tyrone Bowers gained 264 yards last season. Saugus also has a new coach, 17-year assistant Ron Hilton. Former backup Travis Ivey takes over at quarterback, but running back Brandon Hartwell, a transfer from Canyon, may make the biggest impact. The Centurions (6-5 last season) were 33rd among 50 area Southern Section schools in rushing yardage. They were third in pass defense. Saugus beat Santa Barbara last season, 21-0.
* ST. BONAVENTURE vs. PARACLETE
At Antelope Valley College, 7:30 p.m.
No need to ask where the beef is in this one. St. Bonaventure's offensive line, which averages 6-4, 271 pounds, goes against a defensive line with ends Josh Foster (6-7, 240) and Peter Cich (6-5, 240). "Battle in the trenches," Seraph Coach Jon Mack said. "I'll take a 2-0 [final score] at this point, as long as we have the two." Sophomore quarterback Chris Lombardo, who threw 14 passes last year, will be a key for St. Bonaventure. Paraclete tailback Dominic Washington was High Desert League player of the year in 1996, rushing for 1,493 yards and nine touchdowns in 229 carries.
* L.A. BAPTIST vs. QUARTZ HILL
At Quartz Hill High, 7:30 p.m.
L.A. Baptist, a Division XI team, moves up nine divisions to play a school with four times as many students. The Knights will be out-sized by about 20 pounds per man on the line, but have speedy receivers and backs. Knight quarterback Peter Dirksen has set a goal to pass for 3,000 yards this season and is likely to let a few fly in the High Desert, especially with an unproven running game. Quartz Hill will counter with an offensive line that averages 250 pounds. The Rebels don't have any starting skill position players back, but quarterback Eric Holtfreter and tailback Jermaine Reyes have varsity experience.