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PREP EXTRA / A weekly look at the high school sports
scene in the Southland

There's No Shortage of Regional Appeal in This Showdown

Prep football: Saturday's game between Mater Dei and De La Salle has Northern and Southern California coaches taking sides.

September 24, 1998|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In this corner, wearing red and white, stands Santa Ana 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.

Mater Dei and De La Salle mirror each other. Both are private Catholic institutions and are not restricted by district boundaries when it comes to attracting student-athletes.

Mater Dei opened its season with victories over 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.

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 over Grass Valley Nevada Union and Bakersfield this season, hasn't lost since Dec. 7, 1991, when it fell to Pittsburg, 35-27, in its 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 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."

The knock on De La Salle has been its schedule. The Spartans rarely stray out of Northern California. Before Friday's game against Bakersfield, they had played only one other team from Southern California since 1982, defeating Vista Rancho Buena Vista in 1995 and '96.

But Mater Dei, while playing games in Hawaii and Las Vegas, did not schedule a Northern California opponent during that stretch.

Southern California fans also point to the difference in size of the sections in which the schools compete. The five Northern California sections--North Coast, Northern, San Francisco, Oakland and San Joaquin--total 361 schools. The Southern Section alone has 510 schools.

"In their minds, Northern California has something to prove," Huntington Beach Edison Coach Dave White said. "That whole area will root for De La Salle to show the Southern California boys they can play. We have some great teams down here--Long Beach Poly, Mater Dei, Bishop Amat, Santa Margarita--who feel they don't have to prove anything."

That's the kind of thinking some Northern California coaches say is demeaning.

"Southern California is arrogant, big-time, about high school football," Oakland Skyline Coach John Beam said. "Well, De La Salle is a quality football program. This should be one heck of a game, but one game doesn't decide which area is better.

"Southern California has more schools, but you put the top programs against each other, year in and year out, and it's a wash."

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