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Valley / Ventura County Sports

Palmdale in 3-D

Thompson, Murray and Diggs Make Falcons Soar

November 06, 1998|DAVE DESMOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PALMDALE — It wasn't so much a backfield in motion as it was a backfield in transition.

Palmdale High backs last year accounted for 23 touchdowns and almost 3,200 yards to help the Falcons win their first outright Golden League football championship in more than 30 years.

Then they graduated.

The replacements, quarterback Johnathan Thompson and running backs Marquis Murray and Anthony Diggs, faced a daunting assignment, especially considering their credentials.

Before this season, Thompson had thrown 18 passes in his career. Murray and Diggs had combined to rush 16 times for 37 yards.

Without any established firepower, the Falcons were picked by most league coaches to finish fourth or fifth in the six-team league.

"No one respected us," said Murray, a senior. "We had to go out this year and prove to everyone that we are one of the best backfields in the league."

Consider it done.

Palmdale (5-3, 2-1 in league play) is averaging a league-best 279 yards per game going into its league championship showdown at Littlerock (8-0, 3-0) tonight.

Littlerock will clinch a share of the title with a victory. A victory by Palmdale probably would throw the race into a three-way tie among Littlerock, Palmdale and Lancaster (6-2, 2-1) entering the final week of the season.

"This game is critical for us," said Diggs, a junior.

There didn't figure to be many important games on Palmdale's 1998 schedule, not after running backs Jason Anderson and Shaun Perez moved on to Langston (Okla.) University and quarterback Grant Livermont became a member of the Falcon coaching staff.

Anderson was the league's top rusher last season with 1,304 yards, Perez ran for 795 yards and Livermont was second in passing with 1,198 yards.

While Thompson received some on-the-job training filling in for the injury-plagued Livermont, Murray and Diggs spent most of last season getting readyfor this season.

"They've come in and become great varsity players," Coach Jeff Williams said.

"They have performed at a top level every single week."

They've had to.

The three have combined to rush 263 times. The rest of the team has carried only 31 times.

Thompson, 5 feet 10 inches and 165 pounds, regularly attracts the most attention from opponents.

One of the region's most elusive players, the senior has rushed for 338 yards and passed for a league-best 696 yards and eight touchdowns.

A rival coach recently likened tackling Thompson to catching a gnat in a closet.

"He's very dangerous, but you can't focus on him so much that you neglect the other people," Coach Jim Bauer of Littlerock said.

The 6-1, 190-pound Murray is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and has rushed for 695 yards and eight touchdowns.

He gained 218 yards two weeks ago against Quartz Hill, then ran for 105 last week against Antelope Valley.

Diggs, 5-10 and 205, has added 340 yards rushing, and made some big plays at defensive end.

He returned a blocked punt 55 yards for a touchdown against Antelope Valley. In September, he preserved a 14-7 victory over Kennedy with a sack deep in Palmdale territory on the last play of the game.

No longer is there a question whether the three can succeed.

With Thompson and Murray graduating after this season, the focus has shifted to making their successors' job as difficult as possible.

"We've known all along what we could do," Thompson said. "Now, I think we have showed everybody else . . . and I still think we can show a lot more."

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