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Camarillo Picks Up Seven Consecutive Victories After Down Year

November 12, 1998|TRIS WYKES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CAMARILLO — Happy days are here again for the Camarillo High football team, and that means the regulars at the Burger Barn restaurant, less than a mile from the school, are gassing up the motor home and getting ready to squeeze inside.

Two years ago, when the Scorpions won their final 12 games en route to the Southern Section Division III title, Burger Barn owner Rick Christ and about a dozen patrons would jam into Christ's 19-foot motor home for rowdy excursions to away games.

"It's only supposed to hold six, but we put some lounge chairs in there and make it happen," said Christ, 45, whose establishment is a pit stop for hungry Scorpion athletes. "We'll be motorin' again this year when the playoffs come."

Camarillo has been revving its engine for the last month and a half, compiling a seven-game winning streak after an 0-2 start. The Scorpions (7-2) host Hueneme (4-4-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in a regular-season finale to decide the Pacific View League title. Each team is 3-0 in league play.

The euphoria of Camarillo's 1996 title faded quickly when the team struggled to a 1-9 record last year. How the Scorpions rebounded to again become one of Ventura County's top teams is a tale almost as unlikely as Christ's packing job in the motor home.

"We had no idea what we had on our hands," said Scott Cline, Camarillo's offensive coordinator.

"We had no tailbacks or receivers with varsity experience and one returning lineman. We had an intrasquad scrimmage the week before the season and in two hours we didn't move the ball further than 20 yards."

Part of the confusion stemmed from the return of nine potential starters who had not played in 1997 because of academic ineligibility or disinterest. Personnel assessments that normally take days instead took weeks.

After the Scorpions began the season with losses to Canyon and Agoura, Coach Carl Thompson made several position changes while remaining true to his philosophy of using players on only one side of the ball.

The switches have not resulted in eye-catching statistics, but it's hard to argue with the results.

A retooled offensive line that averages 6 feet 2 and 230 pounds has protected quarterback Garrett Valencia, who has passed for 1,443 yards and 12 touchdowns, with nine interceptions. The 6-1, 200-pound senior has completed 52% of his passes.

Senior tailback Greg Rountree has

emerged from a lengthy exile because of academic ineligibility to lead the team with 580 yards rushing. Rountree, who had not played football since his freshman year, is questionable Friday because of minor injuries sustained last week in a car accident.

Receivers Loren Cerny, Steve Dacre, Mike Martinez and Gary Bryce each have 15 or more receptions.

Defensively, Camarillo is led by 6-4, 240-pound lineman Eric Foster, a senior who is the only remaining starter from the 1996 team. Linebacker Scott Korell and free safety Jaime Reyes are other catalysts on a hard-hitting unit.

Kicker Jason Geisler, who has made 15 of 17 conversion kicks and seven of 13 field-goal attempts, has battled a groin injury for several weeks and is questionable for Friday.

The Scorpions are short on star players, and with its seven victories coming against opponents with a combined record of 28-51-2, skeptics still abound. But Valencia likes what he sees around him.

"On [the 1996] team, everyone knew guys like Joe Borchard and Bubba Jackson and Charles Sandlin," Valencia said.

"We have a bunch of no-names. But I like playing ball and winning games and making people wonder how we did it."

The development of Valencia, a freckled-faced left-hander with boundless enthusiasm, into a capable leader has been crucial to Camarillo's success.

A year ago, the junior was anointed successor to Borchard, the county's player of the year in 1996. Instead, Valencia completed only 33% of his passes, had 15 of them intercepted compared to only four touchdowns, and was routinely mauled by pass rushers.

"We put him in a bad spot," Thompson said. "He was looking to avoid getting hit and he was just throwing the ball. Half the time he didn't know where it was going."

Enter Cline, the school's baseball coach who coached Valencia on lower-level football teams.

Cline, 31, quarterback on Camarillo's 1984 section championship team, had taken a year off from football coaching. Upon his return, he instituted a more conservative passing game to boost Valencia's confidence.

"Having Scott back has meant everything to me," Valencia said.

"Last year, I'd wake up and ask why I was doing this, why were we busting our butts and not winning games? I felt I wasn't doing the job."

Valencia has been sacked five times this season, a total he describes with a laugh as "my weekly average last season." He passed for 263 yards against Thousand Oaks, and led the Scorpions to victory over Buena with an 85-yard scoring drive in the final two minutes.

Camarillo may well need a similar effort to beat Hueneme, which is averaging 418 yards and 40 points per game. The Vikings, loaded with fast, skilled athletes, have lost only once on the field this season, having forfeited three victories because of an ineligible player.

"We'll probably be four-touchdown underdogs, but that's fine, we've been underdogs all year," Cline said.

Foster, who could play five positions Friday, said he and his teammates feast on overconfident opponents.

"When we line up against someone who thinks they're better and wants to get the game over so they can go party, we usually end up on top," Foster said. "Our attitude is different."

At the Burger Barn, Christ is making plans to skip out early Friday and attend the game. With an anticipated crowd of 7,000, he knows where most of his customers will be.

"The kids on that team are our future," Christ said. "They're full of energy and they're doing something good. It's been neat seeing them develop this year."

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