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It's One School of Thought: Get It Out in Open

High school football: Taft and Buena are two teams who like to learn tough lessons from difficult opponents.


Easy does it? Not a chance, says Rick Scott.

Don't bite off more than you can chew? Troy Starr eschews the notion.

Scott, football coach at Buena High, and Starr, his counterpart at Taft, know little of one another. But they share a philosophy: Put your best football forward.

Now. In Week One.

Schedule a top opponent, one considered most likely to succeed during the December playoff run, and measure up.

Not after playing a patsy to build momentum.

Not after using a perennial loser as a steppingstone.

For No. 4-ranked Taft, the barometer will be Banning for a fourth consecutive year.

"Driving home on the bus after the game, we will have questions answered regardless of the score," Starr said. "Sometimes when you play weaker opponents, you get a false sense of thinking you are good.

"What is good? Our definition of good is the highest competition in the City Section."

For No. 5-ranked Buena, the philosophy means continuing a series against Westlake that began in the 1980s.

"Every year two or three kids who start against Westlake aren't starters after that game," Scott said. "We are trying to find football players. Guys are competing for positions."

It's open and shut: A player able to hold his own against the defending Southern Section Division IV champion Warriors is a player who will help Buena reach the playoffs.

The final score is less important than lessons learned. Banning trampled Taft, 41-13, to open the 1998 season. But while licking their wounds, the Toreadors calculated precisely how much they needed to improve to win the City title.

And they had 13 weeks to get it done.

Sure enough, Taft met Banning again in the final. The winning team again scored 41 points, but this time it was Taft. Banning was shocked, 41-29.

Starr is convinced had Taft not gone down, it would not have worn the crown.

"We found out how our kids stack up and how they deal with adversity," Starr said. "It helped us later in the season. It so happened we faced Banning in the final and maybe they took us lightly.

"To win the City we have to measure the gulf early. We will always play deep in L.A., where the buses don't run. That's a lesson I learned a long time ago."

Buena has never met Westlake in the playoffs. Yet Scott recognizes the value of playing the Warriors, who employ a sophisticated offense and are usually well-prepared.

"I know [Westlake Coach] Jim Benkert will put together a good game plan," Scott said. "They will be sound on offense, defense and on special teams. They'll show us three or four different formations. If we can prepare for Westlake, we can prepare for anyone else on our schedule."

The rivalry has produced exciting games and the teams are often at midseason form. Westlake leads the series, 8-4-1, but games such as the 35-35 tie in 1995 and Buena's 20-19 victory in '97 are unforgettable for Scott.

Last season, Westlake won, 42-27, but punishment has a way of imparting wisdom: Buena rattled off 10 consecutive victories.

Few other schools in the region open against the same strong opponent year in and year out. Golden League teams often face Central Section powers from Bakersfield and Fresno. And an increasing number of City teams are scheduling Southern Section opponents.

Long-standing rivalries are rare. Thousand Oaks and Crescenta Valley will face one another for the sixth year in a row. Ventura and Simi Valley enjoy a series that dates to the 1980s, although in recent years the enjoyment has been all Ventura's.

The Cougars have won the last four meetings by an average of 18 points. From 1991-95, Simi Valley won twice and the five games were decided by a total of 20 points.

"We'd love to see Simi get its program back to where it was," Coach Phil McCune of Ventura said. "The idea of the series is to start against a strong opponent."

Opening against a quality foe doesn't necessarily mean playing the same team every year. Newbury Park opts for variety, having kicked off against Waimea, Hawaii, Gardena and Tucson Sahuaro in recent years.

"Part of making high school football fun is playing different schools," Coach George Hurley of Newbury Park said. "We want our kids tested, that's the important thing."

Scott can see only one drawback to opening against Westlake.

"The bad thing is that our running back and quarterback aren't gonna get big stats and our defense will probably give up 400 yards," Scott said. "Stat-wise, we'll be in a hole.

"But it's worth it. Some coaches win their first game, 30-0, and don't know where their team is. We'll definitely know where we're at."

Tonight's Openers

* Channel Islands vs.


at Valley College, 7 p.m.

* Paraclete vs.

St. Bonaventure

at Ventura High, 7 p.m.


* The Prophet returns, with a vengeance. Page 11

* Capsules and schedules for area teams in the Academy, Alpha, Angelus, Del Rey, Frontier, Prep, Rio Hondo, Santa Fe and Tri-Valley leagues. Page 11

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