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FOOTBALL PLAYOFF CAPSULES : Division VI

November 17, 1998|MARTIN HENDERSON

Defending champion: Hacienda Heights Wilson, a 34-21 winner over Bell Gardens.

Seeded teams: 1. Woodbridge (9-0-1), 2. Irvine, 8-1-1, 3. Aliso Niguel (5-5), 4. Villa Park (4-5-1).

Dark horse: Santa Margarita (7-3) was ranked in the division's top three the first nine weeks and already has lost to Woodbridge and Irvine. If the theory that it's hard to beat a team twice in the same season holds up, the Eagles are in business.

Notes: Most of the teams in this division, including division champion Santa Margarita, were in Division V last season. . . . For winning the Pacific Coast League title, third-seeded Aliso Niguel faces Santa Margarita, the division's third-ranked team in last week's poll. University (6-3-1), second in the PCL, drew Katella (7-2-1), whose four nonleague victories are over teams with losing records. "I'm not sure about that draw," Aliso Niguel Coach Joe Wood said. "Last year [after finishing second], we drew the No. 1 seed, Rancho Alamitos. [However], it will be great for the community. There's been some talk the last few years about playing Santa Margarita. We would have preferred El Dorado, Canyon, someone who is more in line with being a true No. 3 [league representative]. Santa Margarita is not a true No. 3." Santa Margarita is, in fact, the two-time defending section champion. . . . Santa Margarita Coach Jim Hartigan thinks if his team is to repeat, it must beat the division's best team in the semifinals, second-seeded Irvine. Asked after his team's 20-12 loss to top-seeded Woodbridge on Friday, Hartigan didn't hesitate when asked if Woodbridge was the best team in the division: "I think Irvine's better," he said. . . . The most dangerous offensive player in the division might be Irvine quarterback Sean Van de Merghel. He has 18 touchdowns and four interceptions going into the playoffs. He had only six touchdowns with one interception through five games. "He's been getting better through some growing pains, and we adjusted the offense to him," Irvine Coach Terry Henigan said. Hartigan, who coached USC's Carson Palmer last year, said Van de Merghel is "a pure quarterback, and could be the best pure quarterback in our league." To avoid confusion, Hartigan was talking about the 1998 season and not including Palmer in the comparison. . . . The biggest rivalry of the first round belongs to Tustin-Foothill. Foothill (6-4) won the first meeting, 35-15, in the season-opener. "There's no question about this game selling tickets," said Foothill's first-year coach Casey Mazzotta, a Tustin graduate. "It's tough to play someone twice in the same year, tough to get up for them again, but there will be no problem getting cranked up for this." Foothill will be the home team at Tustin (6-4). . . . Since losing its starting quarterback for the season for disciplinary reasons, Foothill's Dana Pino-Dempsey--who had never before played quarterback--has led the Knights to a 3-0 record. "We were inconsistent, we lacked some continuity, and we got him in there and we won three straight," Mazzotta said. "He took a leadership role and ran with it." . . . Cypress (6-4) has been held to six points twice this season, in losses to South Torrance and Century, but averaged 31.5 points in its other eight games. The Centurions, the Empire League champions, are making only their second playoff appearance since 1980 and first since 1996. . . . El Dorado (6-4) had won four of five games, and had won shares of back-to-back league titles, before losing to Cypress in Week 10. The Golden Hawks paid the price, too, drawing fourth-seeded Villa Park in the first round. Villa Park (4-5-1) lost three games by forfeit for using an ineligible player. The Spartans, including the original score of their three forfeit losses, averaged 35.8 points. El Dorado has allowed 36 points in each of its last two games. . . . Five of the six Sea View League teams were ranked in the final poll, No. 1 Woodbridge, No. 2 Irvine, No. 4 Santa Margarita, No. 8 Corona del Mar and No. 10 Newport Harbor. Newport Harbor (6-4), with a better record than six playoff teams, failed to make the 16-team field. . . . Servite Coach Larry Toner said it would be premature to say only a Sea View League team can win the title. "If I didn't think [we had a chance], I'd mail it in, cancel the buses and save some costs," Toner said. Wood, Aliso Niguel's coach, agreed. "We got one first down Friday [against Costa Mesa] and scored 27 points," Wood said of his team's 27-18 victory. "This is a great game, and it can be very unusual."

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