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Smith, 15, Is a Man for Taft

City Championship: Sophomore scores three touchdowns and Toreadors down Marshall, 54-33.


WOODLAND HILLS — He's no longer Steve Smith of Taft High. Just call him Stevie Wonder.

The record-breaking sophomore wide receiver caught two touchdown passes Thursday night and returned an interception 49 yards for another touchdown to help Taft pull away in the second half for a 54-33 victory over Marshall in a City Championship opener.

Smith, only 15 but with unlimited talent, finished with five receptions for 118 yards, raising his school-record season totals to 87 catches for 1,530 yards and 16 touchdowns.

His seventh interception was also his second touchdown return this season.

This was supposed to be the most competitive first-round game, matching No. 8-seeded Taft (9-2) and No. 9 Marshall (9-2). The Toreadors got a wake-up call early in the third quarter when they fell behind, 21-20, on Marvin Quinonez's seven-yard touchdown run.

But Taft scored the next 28 points in the third quarter, relying on the passing of Rick Clausen, who was only eight of 24 for 102 yards in the first half.

Clausen, however, finished 20 of 46 for 310 yards and four touchdowns.

In the third quarter, he scored a touchdown and completed touchdown passes of 15 yards to Waylon Witcher and 22 yards to Clarence Simpson.

Smith's 49-yard interception return put Taft ahead, 48-21.

Witcher, an unsung senior linebacker and tight end, made valuable contributions throughout.

Three times he dropped Marshall players for losses. He caught five passes for 90 yards and also made several crunching blocks in support of his fellow receivers.

Taft did not play well in the first half despite leading, 20-14, at halftime.

Two of Taft's touchdowns were set up by Marshall punt mishaps. Lee Marks scored on a 17-yard run following a bad punt snap and scored on a five-yard run following a blocked punt by Lamar Maxie.

Taft had trouble covering receiver John Spears, who caught nine passes for 103 yards in the first half. In the second half, he was limited to one catch.

Quinonez shredded Taft's secondary for 259 yards passing. In the fourth quarter, he connected on touchdowns of 34 and 67 yards.

The Toreadors did perform well against the run. They held Marshall's 260-pound running back, Donatis Dargis, to 26 yards in 12 carries.

In a City Championship quarterfinal game on Wednesday against top-seeded Crenshaw, Taft will need to receive more consistent performances from its skill players.

Clausen struggled at times, missing open receivers. But he showed resiliency in the second half.

"All these guys have to play huge," Coach Troy Starr said.

Smith is a player who can't leave the field. He caught a 46-yard touchdown pass in which he outran a defender and sprinted to catch up to Clausen's throw.



Thursday's Scores

Crenshaw 44

South Gate 7

Taft 54

Marshall 33

Birmingham 53

Palisades 47

Carson 3

Dorsey 0

Granada Hills 30

Westchester 12

Banning 27

Kennedy 22

San Pedro 14

Jefferson 11

Sylmar 42

Grant 7


Gardena 27

Bell 14

San Fernando 40

Eagle Rock 20

Chatsworth 28

Venice 27

Narbonne 33

Cleveland 25

Canoga Park 14

Franklin 7

Fremont 21

North Hollywood 20

Locke 26

Belmont 22

Roosevelt 56

Van Nuys 0

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