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FOOTBALL

Tustin Works Hard to Give Coach His Greatest Victory

October 10, 2000|MARTIN HENDERSON

If Golden West League schools decided to shy away from competing against Catholic schools, it would sure bother Tustin Coach Myron Miller and Santa Margarita Coach Jim Hartigan.

They love playing each other. And their teams seem to be made for each other.

Until Tustin's dominating 35-14 victory Friday, Santa Margarita had won all six previous meetings, including four playoff games from 1995-98. The biggest of their battles was the Southern Section Division V championship game in 1998, featuring Eagle quarterback Carson Palmer and Tiller running back DeShaun Foster. Santa Margarita won, 55-42.

"If you look at it, they went the distance in the championship game," Hartigan said. "That was the 'Thrilla in Manila.' These teams, and both coaches, bring out the best in each other. I like playing them--they make us focus."

The same goes for Tustin. And history didn't go unnoticed by the Tillers.

"We wanted to win it for all the people in the past," said senior linebacker Matt McCoy, whose seven sacks of Matt Dlugolecki set a Tustin record. "We wanted to show everyone what we're all about. We wanted to win for Coach Miller."

Senior running back Frostee Rucker agreed: "Coach Miller had never beaten them, and we finally gave it to him. We were playing our 'A' game."

Miller called the victory his best as a coach, surpassing the 43-28 victory over Servite that gave Tustin the 1998 Golden West League title. "The kids knew how important this game was," he said. "We had five-hour practices. The kids told me, 'We'll do whatever you think it takes to win this football game.'

"It's nice to play up once in a while and win games like this. Playing the Catholic schools makes you better coaches and better players."

Tustin (4-1) won two of its three nonleague games against parochial schools, defeating La Puente Bishop Amat, 20-16, and losing to Servite, 14-6. There's another benefit to playing the top competition.

"We learned so much more from losing to Servite," Miller said, "than we would have learned by beating a [lesser team]. . . . When we lost last year to Loara in the quarterfinals, we went to work. We said we were never going to lose another game to a team that's not better than us. I'm really proud of our staff and our kids."

NO STOPPING HIM NOW

Santa Ana defensive tackle Bill Leal wants to join the Marine Corps after graduation and eventually become a law-enforcement agent.

It will be a long and daunting road, to be sure, but it pales in comparison to what the 17-year-old senior has already achieved: A victory over testicular cancer.

Leal found out he had the disease after his freshman year at Los Amigos. Before it was diagnosed, though, the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, kidneys and lungs.

Doctors removed a portion of his lymph nodes and chemotherapy killed the cancer in his kidneys and lungs, leaving a "pretty wicked scar across his torso," according to Santa Ana Coach Jesse Gomez.

It took the 6-foot, 240-pound Leal an entire summer to regain his strength after the surgery. And doctors forced him to sit out his sophomore and junior seasons after he transferred to Santa Ana.

But Leal, who last played as a freshman, hasn't wasted any time making an impact this year.

"It's amazing to see his work ethic," Gomez said. "When he's out on the field, he's always giving 100%. He has come so far to the point where he can be competitive. I think there are very few people who could rebound the way he has."

Since his surgery, Leal has visited his doctor every six months to ensure that the disease hasn't returned. If he doesn't go into remission for the next 2 1/2 years, Leal said, "the chances of [the cancer] coming back are slim and none.

"It feels great," he said. "I'm back where I was."

SOME MUCH-NEEDED RELIEF

Los Amigos had been outscored, 134-14, during its three-game losing streak heading into its game last Friday against Rancho Alamitos. And things didn't look like they were going to get any better.

The Lobos went scoreless for nearly three quarters, falling behind 19-0, before quarterback Richard Dinh scored on a two-yard run with 29 seconds left in the third quarter. Los Amigos went on to rally for 12 more points and a 19-19 tie.

"He [Dinh] missed the last three games with a knee injury," Los Amigos Coach David Olson said. "When he came back, we finally got some things going offensively."

The Lobo staff held its collective breath late in the third quarter when Dinh laid on the ground for several minutes before hobbling off to the sideline. Reserve quarterback Matthew Hardin ran two plays before Dinh returned.

"It looked like cramps from the sidelines and, fortunately, that's all it was," Olson said. "That comes from not playing for a while."

Los Amigos (1-3-1, 0-0-1 in the Garden Grove League) will need Dinh at full strength for its game Friday at Garden Grove (1-3-1, 1-1).

EXTRA YARDAGE

It should come as no surprise that Sunset and Serra league teams have the highest winning percentages against nonleague opponents. After all, the leagues include six of the top 10 teams in this week's Orange County Sportswriters' Poll.

The Sunset League leads the way with a 23-7 record (77%) against nonleague teams, while the Serra League is close behind at 14-6 (70%). The Academy League checks in at 15-7-1 (67%) and the Freeway League is next at 19-11 (63%).

These figures may mean little once the league schedule starts this week, but they could be a harbinger for league success in the playoffs.

*

If you have an item or idea for the high school football report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at ben.bolch@latimes.com or martin.henderson@latimes.com

Staff writer Ben Bolch and correspondent Tim Dermody contributed to this report.

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