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High-Stakes Game

Concord De La Salle Is Coming South to Meet Mater Dei in a Battle of Football Powerhouses

September 22, 1998|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In this corner, wearing red and white, stands Mater Dei, one of the state's most successful football programs in the 1990s. The Monarchs have played in five Southern Section Division I championship games this decade, winning three. They are ranked fifth in the state.

In the other corner, wearing green and white, stands Concord De La Salle, the most successful football program in the state in the 1990s. The Spartans have won a national-record 78 consecutive games and six North Coast Section titles in a row. They are the state's top-ranked team and sit atop USA Today's national rankings.

At 7:30 Saturday night at Edison Field, Mater Dei (2-0) and De La Salle (2-0) will meet in one of the state's most anticipated prep football games ever.

"This will be the biggest Northern California-Southern California game since the state playoffs in the 1920s," said Mark Tennis, editor of Cal-Hi Sports. "It's that significant."

It's the first meeting between the schools, who will play again next year in Northern California. Athletic directors Gary McKnight of Mater Dei and Terry Eidson of De La Salle spent parts of the past three years arranging the game.

"We tried to set it up two years ago but just couldn't work out the schedules because they were in a battle over releaguing," McKnight said. "This year, things came together."

The call from McKnight was a case of perfect timing, Eidson said.

"We came to [the Bay Valley League] with a proposal to go semi-independent with five nonleague games," Eidson said. "Three teams in our league volunteered to keep playing us, and both Mater Dei and Bakersfield were waiting on us."

Mater Dei and De La Salle mirror each other. Both are private Catholic institutions, are not restricted by district boundaries when it comes to attracting student-athletes, and, as Eidson wryly noted, "play in [public school] leagues that don't want you."

Mater Dei will be removed from the South Coast League after this school year by Southern Section vote, returning to the Catholic Athletic Assn. De La Salle no longer competes for the Bay Valley League championship.

Mater Dei opened its season with victories against Fresno Clovis West and Bellflower St. John Bosco, and on Saturday hopes to knock off its third nationally top-ranked team this decade. In 1991, the Monarchs beat Rialto Eisenhower in the section Division I title game, and in 1994, they defeated Los Alamitos, which at the time had a 47-game unbeaten streak, in the Division I semifinals.

Twice, in 1994 and '96, Mater Dei ended the season as USA Today's national champion. And in both years, the Monarchs were ranked second in the state to De La Salle by Cal-Hi Sports.

De La Salle, with victories against Grass Valley Nevada Union and Bakersfield this season, hasn't lost since Dec. 7, 1991, when it fell to Pittsburg, 35-27, in its section 3-A title game.

The Spartans will carry the pride of Northern California prep football on their shoulder pads.

"Northern California feels it doesn't get respect because it doesn't have the population density of Southern California," Oakland Bishop O'Dowd football Coach Paul Perenon said. "That's why even coaches up here who don't like De La Salle are pining to see them win. They feel this is the consummate test.

"A lot of posturing between Northern California and Southern California will be put into correct perspective based on the outcome."

Said Edison Coach Dave White: "It's definitely a big deal to Northern California, but it's also a big deal to Orange County. Whether it branches beyond that, we'll see."

Nearly all conversation regarding De La Salle revolves around its winning streak. Last year, the Spartans surpassed the previous record of 72, set by Hudson (Mich.) from 1968-75.

But streaks are nothing new to De La Salle. Since 1987, the school's football team has also enjoyed 34- and 44-game winning streaks.

"You would think that over the past five to six years somebody would have that extraordinary year where they are loaded and knock off De La Salle," Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "And yet, they don't.

"Part of the answer is they have good football minds at that school. They also have very physical, well-conditioned athletes."

Perhaps a more remarkable streak is that De La Salle, which operates a veer-T run-oriented offense, has scored in 222 consecutive games. The last time the Spartans were shut out was in 1979.

"The one thing to me that stands out about the [winning] streak is it shows we are consistent and have done some things right," said Bob Ladouceur, De La Salle's coach since 1979. "Other than that, we don't put much stock in it.

"You're not going to get talented kids every year. Sometimes you have to create good players out of average ones, and average players out of not-so-good ones. That's the nature of high school sports."

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