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Property Rights

For a Change, Cleveland Would Like to Top Reseda for Turf Title

September 15, 2000|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RESEDA — How long will this script play out in identical fashion? Bill Paden wants a rewrite.

Reseda High has defeated cross-town rival Cleveland in games decided in the final minutes four years in a row. It's a tear-jerker for Paden, Cleveland's second-year coach and the team's public address announcer from 1996-98.

"Recently it seems like Reseda has been more motivated than us," Paden said. "They've been more up for the game. But it's a real big thing to us. A lot of people don't know where Cleveland High is. This is the battle of Reseda."

It's the feel-good game of the year for Joel Schaeffer, Reseda's coach of 23 years. Schaeffer is a 1960 Cleveland graduate who played on the school's first football team. He was turned down for a job at his alma mater 30 years ago.

"Deep down, every coach wants to beat his old high school," he said.

Tonight's matchup at Cleveland pits two teams coming off strong seasons. Both opened with victories last week. And if recent years are an indication, expect a suspenseful conclusion.

* 1999: Reseda tailback Eddie Robinson scores on a short run to snap a tie with four minutes to play, then the defense chases down electrifying Cleveland tailback James Bethea. Reseda 21, Cleveland 14.

* 1998: Cleveland scores with 14 seconds to play but is thwarted on a two-point conversion attempt for the third time. Reseda 20, Cleveland 18.

* 1997: Reseda linebacker Joe Looney returns a fumble 67 yards for a touchdown with one minute to play. Reseda 22, Cleveland 18.

* 1996: Cleveland scores on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jared Mills to Jose Garcia with 19 seconds to play, but a two-point conversion attempt fails. The victory is emotional for the Regents because it comes one week after two-way starter Eric Hoggatt died in his sleep. Reseda 21, Cleveland 20.

Not since 1995, when Mills hit a diving Junior Brignac with the decisive touchdown in a 20-14 victory, have the Cavaliers prevailed. And that was an anomaly. Reseda won every meeting from 1990-94.

*

For Paden, the story line is becoming cliche. Enough with the sequels. "It's gone Reseda's way for too long," he said.

For Schaeffer, who admits, "I take special pleasure out of beating Cleveland," enough with the retribution.

For the Cavaliers, who this year have a strong kicker in Nick Arroyo, enough with the missed two-point tries.

Yet Cleveland will need a riveting performance from a leading man to ensure a happy ending.

Meet Matt Clark.

Last year he was the understudy to Bethea, the Denzel Washington of area tailbacks with 1,931 yards rushing. Now Clark gets top billing.

He was a member of Cleveland's City Section champion 400-meter relay team last spring and started at defensive back and receiver the last two years. He averaged 10.2 yards a carry in limited action last year and scored 11 touchdowns on kick returns, receptions and rushes.

Clark logged 215 yards a week ago against Palisades.

Bring on Reseda.

"Going into the [Palisades] game, I felt like I had to make a statement," Clark said. "They said I had a lot of speed but questioned my durability.

"Tailback is where my heart is. I love that position."

Clark's supporting cast is top-notch. Left tackle Victor Gomez is 6 feet 5, 325 pounds, and left guard Andre Berkeley is 6-5, 320. Center Leo Clark and right guard James Thaemert are returning starters. Right tackle Jeremy Brown and tight end Terry Stevens are solid.

"You don't know how fun it is watching Matt run down the field after I make a block," Gomez said. "The line is ready for Reseda. We're fired up for this game."

*

A few miles away, a confident Reseda practices on its field adjacent to Victory Boulevard, which bypasses Cleveland entirely. Losing hasn't crossed the Regents' minds.

"We always beat [Cleveland]," said Lee Williams, a two-way lineman and All-City candidate. "We're going to win, but I don't think it'll be as close as those other games. Our team is really whooped up. This is for the city of Reseda."

The Regents' leading man is an established box-office attraction. Robinson, the tailback, rushed for 1,397 yards last season. However, he doesn't expect star treatment, and that endears him to the no-nonsense Schaeffer.

"I enjoy being on the field with Eddie because he's a real good team man," Schaeffer said. "He gets the kids to rally around him in an easy-going way. He is thankful for what they do on his behalf.

"He runs well, but his blocking ability, that's what I really appreciate."

Robinson thinks a lot of Schaeffer, too.

"Any running back would like to play under Coach Schaeffer because there is never a problem with not getting the ball enough," he said. "He's one of those coaches you always have to respect because of what he's seen and been through."

Such as a long string of victories over his alma mater, the school that wouldn't hire him.

*

Cleveland and Reseda share common ground beyond the city in which they are located. Their tailbacks are equally unspoiled.

Said Robinson: "I don't want to showboat. What goes around comes around. I keep it at a calm pace and stay consistent."

Said Clark: "I'm not a rah-rah type. I do what I've got to do. I'm not a celebrating type of guy."

Like it or not, the tailbacks and their teammates will be well-illuminated tonight because this is the first game under Cleveland's new lights.

Will the script change? That probably won't be clear until the final scene. Fade, music, credits . . . and come again next year.

St. Francis and Crescenta Valley figure to throw plenty of passes tonight. Page 17

La Canada moved to 2-0 with a victory over Glendale, 41-0. Page 17

*

St. Francis and Crescenta Valley figure to throw plenty of passes tonight. Page 17

La Canada moved to 2-0 with a victory over Glendale, 41-0. Page 17

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