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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL REWIND

Birmingham Is Making All Believe

October 22, 2000|Steve Henson

Repent, unbelievers.

Shake off the shackles of your antiquated assumptions. Taft and Granada Hills highs no longer rule the West Valley League as if by birthright.

All hail Birmingham, winner of seven football games in a row, including a 41-14 shocker over Taft on Friday night.

The Patriots' first victory over the Toreadors since 1983 was so one-sided it would have ended by mercy rule had it been a baseball game. Birmingham opened with a 21-play, 10-minute touchdown drive and scored the first six times it had the ball to forge a 33-0 lead that grew to 41-0 in the fourth quarter.

For a talented group of seniors, the success is overdue. For an even more talented group of juniors, this is the beginning of a two-year joy ride.

For a trio of sophomores, it is the foundation of a powerhouse program under first-year Coach Ed Croson.

"It feels like we will have many good years," linebacker Eric Ochoa said. "Our coaches don't put so much stress on us. They just try to make us do our job."

Ochoa, an inside linebacker, has 10 sacks. He leveled Taft star receiver Steve Smith early in the game, making it clear this would be different than Taft's 42-19 varsity victory and 56-0 junior varsity victory over Birmingham last year.

"I'm glad I got a chance to play varsity and be part of something that will be great for years to come," cornerback Chad Green said.

Green had one of four interceptions against Taft and out-jumped Chris Morgan, a receiver and the state high hurdles champion, to bat away a pass in the end zone.

"Last year I was thinking of transferring to Cleveland or Taft," linebacker and tailback Dennis Keyes said. "Now I'm gonna stay and help build a program. I don't think nobody will beat us if we continue to play this well."

Keyes scored on a four-yard run and a two-point conversion.

"This is a turnaround season for Birmingham," Ochoa said. "And for the sophomores, it is the beginning of an exciting career."

*

It wasn't the first time a coach was given to hyperbole in the aftermath of a big victory.

But Jeff Engilman's words to his Sylmar team revealed how much beating Kennedy, 28-26, Friday night meant to him. Kennedy defeated the Spartans twice last season, the first time to snap a 69-game league winning streak and the second in the playoffs.

"Before I came to Sylmar, I won two City championship games," Engilman said. "They were awfully big.

"At Sylmar, we've won two more City championship games. They were awfully big.

"I'm gonna tell you something. This was huge!"

The players roared. One yelled, "Then put a smile on that face of yours."

Engilman grinned and the team roared some more.

*

Sure, Grant has Perry Clayton, the top City running back in the region. But Canoga Park was the prohibitive favorite in the Sunset Six League because it has two elements Grant seemed to lack: More than one scoring threat and a defense.

Grant, remember, gave up a national-record 764 yards passing to David Koral of Palisades last month. And Clayton had scored two of every three Lancer touchdowns entering Friday's game against Canoga Park.

After the Lancers' surprising 51-34 victory, questions might remain about the defense, but Nick Isaak emerged as a big-play specialist.

Isaak, a 5-foot-8 senior who aspires to attend USC film school, could put together a personal highlight reel based on his performance. He had touchdown receptions of 54 and 72 yards, and also scored on a fumble return of 76 yards and an interception return of 46 yards.

Meanwhile, Clayton continued to flourish, rushing for 247 yards to give him 1,566 this season.

*

Justin Peterson is one step ahead. On the football field and, more importantly, in the classroom.

Peterson, a senior receiver with exceptional speed, is Camarillo's deep threat. His 30-yard touchdown reception against Hueneme on Friday was his ninth score. He averages 23 yards a catch.

Also lofty are his grades. Less than six months ago, Peterson learned he was academically ineligible for the second half of baseball season. The fact he was batting .452 and Camarillo was posting its best record in years only made the blow more crushing.

Peterson was determined to make his academic numbers as glowing as the ones he put up in football and baseball. So far, so good.

"I'm proud of that guy," said Loren Cerny, Camarillo's running back and Peterson's close friend. "Last year, I said to him, 'What are you doing?' He turned his act around. He said he was sick and tired of worrying about making grades when he has a chance to get a Division I scholarship."

*

The ankle injury that sidelined Cerny during the second half Friday is less serious than originally thought.

Cerny, a 6-3, 225-pound senior who has rushed for 901 yards, said he believes he will play this week.

*

De'Andre Scott suited up Friday night, but not for St. Paul.

And not in football gear.

Scott wore a suit, tie and tennis shoes while walking the sidelines during the Swordsmen's 24-14 victory over St. John Bosco.

Scott transferred from Alemany to St. Paul last week but was not cleared to play despite reports to the contrary. His eligibility questions should be answered before St. Paul plays Alemany on Nov. 3 in a Del Rey League game.

Among the best running backs in the state, Scott was unhappy at Alemany, where he rushed for 503 yards in six games. Last season, he had 1,747 rushing yards, 503 receiving yards and scored 28 touchdowns.

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