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Don't Pencil In Anyone Yet

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

With '98 City Football Finalists Experiencing Rough Going Early, the Race Is Wide Open

October 14, 1999|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The City Section football season began with defending champion Woodland Hills Taft and runner-up Wilmington Banning thought to be the teams to beat.

But after five weeks, it looks as if it might be the most competitive race for the title in years.

Taft is 1-4 and staggering.

And the toll of playing a schedule that included games against powerful Southern Section teams Long Beach Poly, Santa Fe Springs St. Paul and Santa Ana Mater Dei appears to be having an effect on Banning (1-3).

Chris Howard, regarded as one of the top running backs in the nation, was sensational for Banning in a season-opening victory against Taft but has experienced leg cramps throughout the season that have severely limited his effectiveness. Howard did not play in last week's 37-0 loss to Mater Dei because of knee problems.

Meanwhile, seven of 49 teams in the section--Dorsey, Fremont, Eagle Rock, Franklin, North Hills Monroe, Reseda and San Fernando--are unbeaten and untied. Gardena is 4-0-1.

"It's deeper than it has been and it's definitely wide open," Dorsey Coach Paul Knox said. "There is no dominant team."

The City reconfigured its membership last spring, switching from six eight-team conferences to seven six-team leagues and one seven-team league. Eight league champions and eight at-large teams will play in the Championship playoffs. The next 16 teams will play in the Invitational division.

The seven-team Western League began play two weeks ago but all other leagues begin play Friday.

Here is a look at all eight leagues after five weeks:

COLISEUM LEAGUE

Dorsey (5-0), Crenshaw (3-2) and Fremont (5-0) are regarded as the front-runners.

Dorsey has worn down most of its opponents but needed Cameron Burks' last-minute, 48-yard interception return for a touchdown to defeat Roosevelt. Some might see that as a weakness. Others view it as the kind of play championship teams make during the course of a season.

Crenshaw upset Southern Section power Loyola, 7-6, but the Cougars have yet to play well consistently over several games.

Fremont appears to be rejuvenated under Coach Pete Duffy, who returned to the program after spending last season as an assistant at East Los Angeles College.

Locke (2-3), Manual Arts (3-2) and Jefferson (1-3-1) all have shown flashes that will make this one of the best league races in the Southland.

EASTERN LEAGUE

The annual East Los Angeles Classic was moved this year to the final game of the regular season on Nov. 12. That was smart planning by organizers because the game might not be only for local bragging rights.

Garfield (4-1) suffered its only loss to Wilson. Roosevelt (3-2) was within less than a minute of playing Dorsey to a tie.

South Gate (2-2-1), Bell (2-2-1) and Jordan (2-3) are all capable of making a run.

MARINE LEAGUE

History, recent and past, favor Banning, San Pedro (4-1) and Carson (3-2). But Gardena (4-0-1) and Narbonne (4-1) have one loss between them. All must avoid looking past Washington (0-5).

San Pedro's only loss came against Dorsey, and Banning has played one of the toughest schedules in the state.

NORTHERN LEAGUE

Franklin has dominated its region, and junior quarterback Daniel Gonzalez has the Panthers poised for a run at another league title.

Eagle Rock, however, is off to its best start in more than 40 years and looking forward to a possible battle of unbeaten teams Oct. 29 at Franklin.

Marshall (1-3), Belmont (1-4) and Wilson (1-4) will contend for Invitational playoff berths.

WESTERN LEAGUE

Westchester (4-1) defeated Palisades (3-2) in the league opener Oct. 1, a victory that puts the Comets in the driver's seat.

Venice (4-1), led by running back Arieal Zeledon, and Palisades, led by receiver-defensive back Geoff MacArthur and quarterback David Koral, could sneak in if Westchester falters.

Hamilton (2-3), Los Angeles (2-3) and University (1-4) are probably bound for the Invitational playoffs.

WEST VALLEY

Granada Hills (4-1) will be challenged by Reseda Cleveland (3-2), El Camino Real (3-2) and, if history serves, Taft.

VALLEY MISSION

Monroe, Reseda and San Fernando all are 5-0, but Sylmar (3-2), winner of 67 consecutive league games, and Kennedy (3-2) are the teams to beat.

SUNSET SIX

Canoga Park (2-3), Poly (2-3) and Verdugo Hills (2-3) are the top teams in a league that, unfortunately for the champion, is guaranteed a spot in the Championship playoffs.

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