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November 24, 2000|MARTIN HENDERSON

When La Habra plays host to University tonight, it will pit the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams in the Division IX playoffs, according to the Southern Section's playoff committee.

University was ranked fifth after nine weeks, but La Habra was typically ranked in the lower third of the division's top 10 in the weekly section rankings established by sportswriters and coaches.

Despite victories over Fullerton and Troy, La Habra, now 10-1, was ranked below those two schools.

"That whole thing was a joke," said Mark Cunningham, University's football coach and a member of the playoff committee several years ago. "Someone told me that Fullerton missed two or three scoring opportunities against La Habra. It doesn't matter how many scoring opportunities you get, you have to put it in. The ratings system is a bunch of [garbage].

"I think the [playoff committee] came through and put the top four teams in the right order."

La Habra was deemed No. 4, jumping over University, No. 5.

Cunningham knows first-hand how hard it is to correctly seed teams. At least once, politics got in the way.

"One year, Irvine was considered for a wild card, and a guy on the committee could have drawn Irvine in the first round, and didn't vote for Irvine," Cunningham said. "They changed the rules after that, and if you were a coach in that division, you couldn't sit in on the decision."

He also knows how hard it will be to overtake La Habra, which is led by quarterback Mike Keeling, running back Brent West and receiver Pasqual Alvarez.

"That makes it very difficult," Cunningham said. "Where do you stop them? We'll probably have to play our best game of the season to compete with them, and they'll probably have to play down a little bit."

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