Sylmar High knocked the stuffing out of a toy tiger before the game, then toyed with San Fernando for four quarters, tearing the Tigers apart, 31-6, Friday night to the delight of an overflow crowd at Sylmar.
The tiny tiger took on immense symbolic meaning to the Spartans during the week. Coaches hung it from the goal posts during practice. Players cursed it while running sprints.
Loathing directed at the little whisker-faced miniature reached a peak after San Fernando players exited their bus Friday chanting, "Tiger power."
Sylmar players responded during pregame warmups by ripping the animal into pieces at midfield. Astonished San Fernando players stood a few yards away.
The game was no different. Cornerback David Contreras belted Tiger receiver Eddie Martinez on the second play, knocking the ball into the air and the crowd into a frenzy. San Fernando ran the same play later, and Phil Samano did the honors, laying out Martinez.
Sylmar never let up, dominating every phase of the game to throw the Valley Mission League into a three-way tie.
By City Section rules, San Fernando (9-1, 4-1 in league play), Sylmar (7-3, 4-1) and Kennedy (7-3, 4-1) all qualify for the City Championship playoffs.
"Our offensive line played real well and so did our defense," Coach Jeff Engilman said. "It was a total team game. We played almost a perfect game."
Option keepers by John Valdez keyed Sylmar's first scoring drive and the junior quarterback plowed into the end zone from one yard late in the first quarter.
With burly running back Bobby Stanley less than fully effective because of a knee injury, San Fernando punted on its first three possessions. Stanley rushed for 71 yards in 15 carries.
After the third punt, Sylmar struck again, with Valdez throwing a short pass to Clifford Johnson, who turned it into 57-yard touchdown with 6:29 left in the half.
San Fernando finally sustained a drive, but on first down from the Sylmar six-yard line, Contreras tore the heart out of the Tigers by intercepting a pass at the goal line and returning it 71 yards.
"We have to hand it to my assistant coaches," Engilman said. "We knew in that situation they'd throw a slant. David knew it and was right there."
Two plays later, Contreras threw a halfback option pass to tight end Eddie Gomez for a 21-yard touchdown and a 21-0 halftime lead.
Valdez was nearly flawless, completing seven of nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown in 10 carries and intercepting a pass and returning it 42 yards.
Contreras was equally versatile, rushing for 96 yards and kicking a 37-yard field goal and four extra points in addition to his touchdown pass, interception and nine tackles.
Contreras broke loose for 52 yards on a fake punt on Sylmar's first possession of the third quarter, setting up the field goal.
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* 79-yard INT return
* 21-yard TD pass
* 96 yards rushing
* Rushed for TD
* Passed for TD
* 42-yard INT return