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Birmingham Seeks to Prove That It Belongs

Football: City Section's top-seeded team will open against San Pedro and faces tough road to title.

November 12, 2001|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ed Croson, Birmingham's football coach, said the City Section playoff selection committee sent his program a message when it made the West Valley League-champion Patriots the top-seeded team and matched them against San Pedro in a first-round game.

"The committee basically said, 'Prove it. Beat all the teams in the Marine and Coliseum leagues and we will believe that you're No. 1,"' Croson said Sunday. "So that's what we're going after."

History is not on Birmingham's side. The Patriots won their only City title in 1963, and Sylmar and Taft are the only San Fernando Valley schools to win major division titles since 1988. Parity in the section, however, could work to the advantage of Birmingham and others.

"It's wide open," said Franklin Coach Armando Gonzalez, whose team won the Northern League and is seeded eighth. "Theoretically, the top four seeds should get to the semifinals, but it hardly ever plays out that way. This year, almost anyone can win it."

Crenshaw (8-0), the champion of the Coliseum League, is seeded second, Marine League champion Carson (8-1) is third and Western League champion Westchester (8-1) is fourth.

First-round games are Thursday, quarterfinals Nov. 21 and semifinals Nov. 30. The championship game will be played Dec. 7 at the Coliseum.

"Now it becomes a tournament," said Ed Lalau, coach of defending champion Banning. "All you have to do is shine for three weeks and you're in the big show."

The matchup that has generated the biggest stir is the game between Birmingham (9-0) and No. 16 San Pedro (4-5), which handed Carson its only defeat.

"That is a very tough game for the top-seeded team in the first round," Dorsey Coach Paul Knox said. "I think some lower seeds got better draws."

Birmingham and San Pedro were scheduled to play Sept. 14 in a game that was viewed by many coaches as a measuring stick for the Patriots. The game, however, was canceled after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Last season, Birmingham advanced to the quarterfinals where the Patriots were routed by Carson. Croson said his players learned from the experience and will be ready for a physical game against San Pedro.

"It's a contrast in styles," Croson said, "It's smashmouth football of San Pedro against the spread offense. We're smaller, but our guys are crafty and we hope our style is different enough that it presents problems."

Run-oriented Roosevelt (8-1), led by Jody Adewale, is hoping for a similar scenario against wide-open Taft (7-2), which features receiver Steve Smith.

"I know we're good enough to upset anyone on a given night," Roosevelt Coach Jose Casagran said.

The only first-round game perceived as a mismatch features No. 2 Crenshaw (8-0) against No. 15 Grant (6-3). Crenshaw has won three consecutive Coliseum League titles. The Cougars were defeated by Fremont, 27-19, but were awarded a forfeit victory because the Pathfinders used an ineligible player. Grant won the Sunset Six League.

"Crenshaw has great team speed," Grant Coach Bill Foster said. "We're hoping that they are kind of looking past us. If we throw the ball effectively and we don't turn it over, we have a chance."

That is the same thinking Gonzalez is taking into Franklin's matchup with No. 9 Fremont (7-2), which lost its chance to finish with a perfect record when it was forced to forfeit the victory over Crenshaw. The Pathfinders lost their league finale to Dorsey.

"They are very big compared to us and they have proven they can beat some of the top teams," Gonzalez said.

Westchester is eager to get started against No. 12 Chatsworth (6-3) as it attempts to win its first major-division title. Westchester's only loss was against two-time defending Southern Section Division I champion Long Beach Poly in the season opener. The Comets concluded the regular season with an intersectional victory over defending Division VI champion Newport Harbor.

"After that first game, I think a lot of people were saying, 'Well, this is the year Westchester has a lousy team and we're going to get them,"' Westchester Coach Larry Wein said. "I don't think people understand what Long Beach Poly is about. Our players have improved every week."

Dorsey (6-3), which played 1999 champion Carson in the first round last year, plays defending champion Banning (3-6). Granada Hills (6-3) is at Carson, and Gardena (5-4), last year's Invitational division champion, is at Valley Mission League champion Sylmar (7-2).

"It's like I told our players, administrators and coaching staff," Sylmar Coach Jeff Engilman said. "You'd like to play a patsy in the first round, but there are none. If you want to win this thing, you have to play somebody good."

Narbonne (4-5) is the top-seeded team in the Invitational division for teams rated 17-32. Kennedy (4-5) is second, Venice (5-4) third and San Fernando (5-4) fourth.

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