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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Desert Swarm

Antelope Valley's Stifling Defense Keeps Opponents in Hot Pursuit

November 23, 2000|DAVE DESMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — Forget killer bees.

Of greater concern is the Red Swarm, which has migrated into the quarterfinals of the Southern Section Division III football playoffs.

Antelope Valley High's defense has stung its last 10 opponents, relentlessly attacking until its victims have either suffocated or retreated.

Self-named the Red Swarm, the Antelopes marched to their first outright Golden League championship since 1995 and carry a 10-game winning streak into Friday night's game against St. Francis at Antelope Valley.

During their streak, the Antelopes have allowed fewer than 170 yards a game, an average of 6.4 points and have posted three shutouts. They haven't yielded more than one touchdown in seven weeks and no running back has gained 100 yards against them since the season opener.

"That's the Swarm," said linebacker Frank Morin, the team's second-leading tackler with 59. "It's unbeatable."

Last year, Antelope Valley was anything but a force, allowing 343.5 yards a game during a 4-7 season.

"It's been almost a 180-degree turnaround," said Coach Brent Newcomb, whose team is allowing 183.4 yards this season.

What's the difference?

More talent. More heart. A somewhat softer schedule than in the past.

And a new drill that Newcomb found in a coaching book and that defensive coordinator Sam Vaiana and secondary coach Bill Connor have perfected.

While playing against their scout team offense, the 11 defensive players are given six seconds to swarm to the ballcarrier. Thus the nickname.

"Pittsburgh had the Steel Curtain and the University of Arizona has the Desert Swarm," said Vaiana, who thought of the name. "I was looking for something we could hang our hat on."

With only three defensive starters back--linemen Michael Graves and Brandon Mulvey and safety Demetre Booker--Newcomb and Vaiana filled in the gaps with a talented corps of inexperienced players, including sophomore linebackers Morin and Marcos Huerta.

Defensive linemen Trucell Hayes and Garland Baker, linebacker Terry Hardy and defensive backs Angel Avita, Brendan Gaines and Jerome Eason have complemented the veterans to form the rest of the defense.

"I figured we'd sink or swim with those guys and they've developed beyond my wildest expectations," Vaiana said.

Graves, Mulvey and Booker have remained the leaders.

Graves, 6 feet 3 and 305 pounds, ranks among the region's best linemen. Most teams run away from him and directly into Mulvey.

Booker, also a quarterback who runs the Antelopes' wishbone offense, is the team's leading tackler and serves as an extra coach on the field, Newcomb says.

Linebacker Mark Sutton, who played for the Antelopes in 1998 and starred at Sylmar last season, has rejoined Antelope Valley and is expected to make his debut against St. Francis.

Antelope Valley has thrived against a schedule filled with running teams, allowing 99 rushing yards a game.

The Antelopes held 1,000-yard rushers John Ford of Littlerock, Mychael Williams of Quartz Hill, Tony Ortiz of Lancaster and Clark Flournoy of Serrano each under 100 yards.

But none of their opponents have been as polished or balanced as St. Francis.

UCLA-bound John Sciarra has passed for 2,253 yards and 18 touchdowns, and Matt Milton has rushed for 1,181 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Knights (9-2).

"Our goal has always been to hold the running back under 100," Vaiana said. "If we do that, we take them out of their offense and force them to do something they're not accustomed to. St. Francis poses a problem because they're so balanced and well-coached."

Milton rushed for 111 yards last week in a first-round victory over Saugus, his eighth consecutive 100-yard game.

"It's going to take all 11 guys to swarm him down," Mulvey said. "That sounds like a challenge right there."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PLAYOFF MATCHUPS

Southern Section

QUARTERFINALS

Friday, 7:30 p.m., unless noted

Division III

* Notre Dame vs. Peninsula at

North Torrance High

* Valencia vs. Mira Costa at Canyon High

* St. Francis at Antelope Valley

* Crescenta Valley vs. Hart at Glendale High

Division IV

* Lompoc at Westlake

* Ventura at Royal

* Agoura vs. Dos Pueblos at San Marcos High

* Buena at Arroyo Grande

Division X

* La Canada at Santa Maria St. Joseph

Division XI

* Santa Ana Calvary Chapel vs.

St. Bonaventure at Westminster High

* Nordhoff at Carpinteria

* Orange Lutheran vs. Santa Paula

at CS Fullerton

* Cathedral at Oak Park

Division XII

* Montclair Prep vs. Banning

at Nicolet Middle School

* Bosco Tech at Frazier Mountain

* Paraclete vs. Big Bear at Big Bear

Middle School, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Division XIII

* Flintridge Prep at Arrowhead Christian

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