VAN NUYS — For those still wondering if Birmingham High's unbeaten football record is a fluke, take a moment to contemplate the once unthinkable: Birmingham 41, Taft 14.
"They whipped us in every phase of the game," Taft Coach Troy Starr said Friday night. "They're definitely a championship-caliber team. They can go talent to talent with anyone in the City. There's no doubt about it."
Birmingham (7-0, 2-0 in the West Valley League) opened a 33-0 halftime lead and never let up in defeating the Toreadors (5-2, 1-1) for the first time since 1983.
Kevin McCleary rushed for 186 yards in 29 carries and scored one touchdown, and Scott Jensen completed eight of 11 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots intercepted four passes and dominated Taft like few other opponents have done in Starr's nine years at the Woodland Hills campus.
No one may know who's going to win the presidential election on Nov. 7, but the balloting is over for coach of the year. How can it be anyone but Ed Croson, Birmingham's first-year coach, who has turned around a team that was 2-8 last season?
"Our kids are excited," Croson said. "They're not going to back down from anybody."
Said John Walker, a USC-bound defensive back: "I truly hope we proved ourselves."
Birmingham let Taft know it meant business in an astonishing opening drive in which the Patriots ran off 21 consecutive running plays using their goal-line offense with two tight ends. The 61-yard drive took almost 10 minutes to complete and ended with McCleary scoring on a two-yard run.
It only got worse for the Toreadors.
"It was pretty amazing," said offensive tackle Mario Palomino. "We just pounded them."
The Patriots scored on all six of their offensive possessions in the first half. Taft couldn't stop the run and couldn't stop the pass.
On Birmingham's second possession, the Patriots turned the ball over to little used offensive lineman Israel Diaz, a 230-pound senior who thinks he's Refrigerator Perry. He scored on a four-yard run playing fullback.
Birmingham switched to a no-huddle offense, and Taft couldn't handle that, either. Chris Meyerson caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jensen. McCleary added a two-point conversion, and it was 22-0.
Birmingham refused to let Taft's speedy receivers get open. Sophomore middle linebacker Eric Ochoa battered Steve Smith on the opening drive to deflect a pass. Sophomore cornerback Chad Green knocked the ball loose from Chris Morgan in the end zone to save a touchdown.
Asked if he ever thought Birmingham would start the season 7-0, Walker said, "Honestly, no. But we're a Cinderella team and the clock isn't striking 12."