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PREP FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS

It's A Rematch Worth Watching

November 14, 2000|MARTIN HENDERSON

Tustin ripped through most of its opponents this season, with rival Foothill providing one of the closest games. The teams meet again for a showdown that could rank among the best of the first-round matchups.

When they played in Week 1, Tustin (9-1) escaped with a 6-0 victory. Now, both teams are better. Foothill (5-5) has matured under the system of its first-year coach, Doug Case, and Tustin's quarterback, David Miller has returned to the lineup after missing the first three games because of knee surgery.

Miller is among the county's most valuable players. Without the threat of his passing, Tustin scored only 32 points in three games, and one touchdown came on defense. In seven games since Miller's return, Tustin averaged 55.4 points.

Still, of all the seeded teams that Foothill could have faced in the first round, Case figures his team will be most comfortable against the Tillers. "We match up best with Tustin, just because of past experience," he said. "There's no big mystery. If there's anything new in this game, it will be something added this week." . . .

The reason Tustin is No. 3 and Newport Harbor (8-2) is No. 4 is because Foothill upset Villa Park (9-1), which had previously figured to be the No. 3 seeded team. Villa Park dropped into the No. 5 spot in the pairings bracket, setting up a likely second-round showdown with Newport Harbor and moving to La Mirada's half of the bracket. "I'm pleased," Newport Harbor Coach Jeff Brinkley said. "We didn't anticipate it. We thought Tustin and Villa Park would be seeded third and fourth."

Another reason for Brinkley to be pleased is his team's play. Since moving Chris Manderino to tailback, the Sailors' only loss is to second-seeded Irvine, 19-14. That's the only time Newport Harbor has been held under 23 points since making the switch. Manderino, who didn't make the transition until the second half of the second game, is fifth in the county among rushing leaders.

Newport Harbor will be without receiver Mitch Gray, who suffered a broken collarbone last week against Aliso Niguel. The Sailors will try to work sophomore tailback Dede Johnson into that role. "He's going to be a really good tailback before he leaves," Brinkley said. "He's cut out of the same mold as Andre Stewart." Stewart led the county in rushing last season with 2,380 yards in carrying the Sailors to the title. . . .

Unseeded Loara (6-4), which has already played Mater Dei, Irvine, Villa Park and Western, is another team worth watching. A physical team, the Saxons won't be easily intimidated. And with running back Billy Chavez and receiver Rudy Acosta, they have the skills to get the ball into the end zone. Acosta left last week's game with a sprained ankle, but he is expected to play Friday against Cerritos.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Key Player

Name: Travis Otott

School: Irvine

Key stat: 14 TDs, 4 ints.

Notable: Senior quarterback led Vaqueros to unbeaten season even though he didn't play last year.

At a Glance

1999 winner: Newport Harbor

Seeded teams: 1. La Mirada (10-0), 2. Irvine (10-0), 3. Tustin (9-1), 4. Newport Harbor (8-2)

County teams: Cypress (9-1), El Modena (8-2), Foothill (5-5), Irvine (10-0), Kennedy (7-3), Loara (6-4), Newport Harbor (8-2), Ocean View (6-4), Saddleback (5-5), Tustin (9-1), Villa Park (9-1), Westminster (3-6-1), Woodbridge (4-6)

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