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FOOTBALL

Title Hopes

In the Past, They've Been Frustratingly Close; Is This Finally Their Championship Season?

November 14, 2000|BEN BOLCH

Many players and coaches charge headlong into the Southern Section football playoffs with a "This is our year, baby!" attitude, but three Orange County teams have more than a bad case of bravado to back up their claim.

Tustin, San Clemente and Western are talented teams capable of advancing deep into their respective playoff brackets. And what's more, they're all due.

None has won a title in the modern era, which began in 1958. That's when the section went from having major and minor divisions to the multi-division system, a modified version of which exists today.

Tustin won a lower division championship in 1948. San Clemente and Western have never won a title, but they've come close over the last several decades. The Tritons made it to the semifinals a couple of times in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while the Pioneers lost in back-to-back championship games in 1971 and '72.

Western, the top-seeded team in Division IX, probably has the best shot at ending its championship drought. The Pioneers (9-1) possess an explosive offense as usual, but what makes them a legitimate contender this season is a stingier defense. Western is giving up 17 points per game, roughly a touchdown less than the year before.

"That's the reason we've had a little bit better season," said Pioneer Coach Toby Howell, who last season took his team to the semifinal round. "That's going to be a big key in the playoffs. You can't win by just outscoring people."

Truth be told, Western has made a habit of putting up some serious points. If the Pioneers had a slogan, it would be, "Go with Gober," as in wingback David Gober, who has more than 800 yards rushing and 500 receiving. Quarterback Mike Hicks has thrown 16 touchdown passes with only two interceptions, and tough-as-nails fullback Rodney Eason is the perfect complement to Gober in the backfield.

No conversation about scoring is complete without a mention of Tustin, which routinely pummeled its Golden West League foes by scores of, say, 71-0. If the third-seeded Tillers (9-1) can get past pesky first-round opponent Foothill in Division VI, watch out.

"After the first round, every team is capable of going to the championship," Tustin Coach Myron Miller said.

Tustin's firepower is thanks to its standout quarterback and a host of gifted running backs. David Miller is a model of efficiency, averaging 25 yards a completion and a touchdown for every five passes he throws. And when it comes to running the football, Tustin has made a point of letting everyone get his touches. The team has 3,600 rushing yards, but not a single running back has rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

Myron Miller's only concern is defense. The Tillers have limited opponents to 347 yards rushing for the season, so Miller expects teams to challenge cornerbacks Frostee Rucker & Co. through the air. Tustin should be ready.

Unlike Howell, Miller and San Clemente Coach Eric Patton know what it's like to win a section championship. Miller won a title with Riverside Ramona in 1989. Patton won it all as Capistrano Valley's coach in 1990 and is set to make a run at a second title, this time in Division II with as strong a group of Tritons (8-2) as San Clemente has seen in years.

Quarterbacks Dan Coviello and Beau Budde have both shown they're capable of leading the team to victory, and running backs Colin Mahoney and Chris Smith give the fly offense its lift.

"It takes a little bit of luck and a healthy team playing well at the right time [to win a championship]," Patton said. "We're certainly hopeful that we can get a shot."

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FOOTBALL TOP 10

Final Orange County Sportswriters' Poll

*--*

Pos. School (League) Rec Pts 1. Esperanza (Sunset) 9-1 58 2. Mater Dei (Serra) 8-2 54 3. Edison (Sunset) 8-2 46 4. Santa Margarita (Serra) 8-2 43 5. Irvine (Sea View) 10-0 35 6. Los Alamitos (Sunset) 8-2 28 7. Tustin (Golden West) 9-1 23 8. Mission Viejo (South Coast) 8-2 14 9. San Clemente (South Coast) 8-2 10 10. Western (Orange) 9-1 9

*--*

Others: Servite (7-3) 8, Villa Park (9-1) 2

GAME OF THE WEEK

Edison (8-2) vs. Servite (7-3)

First round of Southern Section Division I playoffs

7:30 p.m., Friday, Huntington Beach High

Servite gets a chance to avenge its 35-33 Week 5 loss to Edison in the only all-Orange County Division I matchup. In the team's first meeting, the Friars moved the ball as well as the Chargers but failed to convert two fourth-and-short situations, and Edison scored touchdowns each time after taking over on downs. Edison running back Darryl Poston had one of his best games of the season with 251 yards and three touchdowns.

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