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FOOTBALL

Defense Catches Up to Western Offense

September 19, 2000|BEN BOLCH

This time last year, Western was being contacted by sieve manufacturers interested in imprinting the school logo on their products. The Pioneers had given up 37 points a game in dropping their first two contests and looked incapable of stopping so much as a rolling marble.

Western's offense, it turned out, was still high-powered enough to enable the Pioneers to earn a wild-card berth in the Southern Section Division IX playoffs. But a porous defense cost Western a shot at advancing to the championship game when it surrendered 34 points to Brea Olinda in a semifinal loss.

It doesn't look like the Pioneers will have to put up big numbers to beat anyone this season, though.

Western held off Loara with a last-minute goal-line stand to win its opener, 14-7, and backed up the effort by throttling El Toro, 63-25, last week. Through two games, the Pioneers (2-0) are giving up an average of 16 points per contest.

So a defense that was once Western's biggest liability is now its . . . calling card?

"No question, it all starts with the defense," Pioneer Coach Toby Howell said. "Our defense is quite a bit improved over last year. We had a good offense last year, but we could have scored a lot more points if we stopped anybody. This year, our defensive guys are a little bigger, a little tougher.

"We haven't been bone-crushing, but the guys have been playing their responsibilities pretty well."

The players who have made the biggest impact so far, according to Howell, are inside linebackers Martin Gonzalez and Kyle Stanley and cornerbacks Duane Parrish and David Gober. Parrish shares the Orange County lead with three interceptions.

The defensive upgrade is especially startling considering that Western returns a mere handful of starters and only two defenders are playing the same position as last season. Nonetheless, Howell said he saw the turnaround coming.

"I had an idea going into the season that we'd be better," he said. "You can tell those things in practice."

Western's next test comes Thursday against Rancho Alamitos (2-0).

CLIPPED WINGS

Santa Margarita Coach Jim Hartigan is trying to figure out why his team has played so poorly in the first three quarters of its first two games.

The Eagles (1-1) fell behind Chino Hills Ayala, 17-0, in Week 1 before rallying for a 22-17 victory but couldn't overcome a 21-0 deficit against Los Alamitos last week in a 21-14 loss.

"We need to step up our play, especially in the first half," Hartigan said. "We've got to clean up some areas."

Starting with special teams. Against Los Alamitos, Santa Margarita took the opening kickoff and drove the ball 76 yards before a high snap on a field-goal attempt ended the threat. The Eagles gained only 28 yards and three first downs the rest of the half.

Santa Margarita also suffered from dropped passes. Quarterback Matt Dlugolecki hit Cole DeVitis in stride for what could have been a touchdown reception in the first quarter. Problem was, the ball slipped through DeVitis' hands.

And with the game winding down and the Eagles seeking the tying score, Dlugolecki found Kyle Rutenbar on a nice little slant pattern. But Rutenbar couldn't corral the perfectly-placed pass.

DAYDREAM BELIEVERS

San Clemente won a game in which it was a decided underdog last week after scoring 20 second-half points to defeat then third-ranked Esperanza, 23-14.

"They won a lot of games in the fourth quarter last year--Dana Hills, Trabuco Hills, Mission Viejo," San Clemente Coach Eric Patton said of his players. "This is a team that plays for four quarters, and that was the thing that was evident.

"A lot of teams would have quit when we were down 14-3. I don't know what to say, other than the kids believe in themselves, they've been there before and know that we can come from behind. Maybe they just don't read the newspapers.

"Believing in yourself and believing you can win makes all the difference in the world."

EXTRA YARDAGE

Tustin will regain the services of several key players in time for Saturday's game against Servite. Quarterback David Miller, who missed the Tillers' first two games, is expected back after having knee surgery 10 days ago, and offensive tackle Ben Baker should also return. Baker was replaced by his younger brother, Sam, in Tustin's victory last week over La Puente Bishop Amat. Tight end B.J. Stelly will be out for at least two more weeks for unspecified disciplinary reasons. Taking his place will be Matt McGrath, who recorded his first start last week. . . . Fountain Valley quarterback Casey Clark, who sat out the Barons' 17-14 victory over Los Angeles City champion Carson last week, will undergo a second round of blood tests today to determine whether he has mononucleosis. "I've got all the symptoms," Clark said. "All my liver enzymes were up, indicating I had it, but I tested negative for it [last week]."

Staff writers Martin Henderson and Melanie Neff contributed to this report.

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

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