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Smith Saves Day for Taft

City football: Junior standout makes game-saving interception in 17-14 win over Carson.

November 22, 2001|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are better players than Steve Smith of Woodland Hills Taft High, only they play on Sundays. As far as high school is concerned, he might be in a class by himself.

"Simply stated, he's a freak," Taft Coach Troy Starr said Wednesday night after Smith caught nine passes for 169 yards and made a game-saving interception with 1:20 left to lift the Toreadors past 10-time champion Carson, 17-14, in a City Championship quarterfinal game.

It was Smith's school-record 12th interception this season. Carson quarterback Jason Tialavea lofted a pass down the middle on second-and-goal from the 24 and hoped one of his receivers could pull it down in the end zone. But there was Smith to outjump everyone and send Taft (9-2) into next week's semifinals against Crenshaw.

"The ball was in the air and I had to get it," Smith said.

Smith, a junior All-City receiver who missed last week's playoff opener because of a bruised shoulder, had four catches that could make any highlight film. His 59-yard reception with 7:24 left set up quarterback Cary Dove's seven-yard touchdown run that gave Taft the lead for good. He also had a 38-yard reception in which he stole the ball from safety Kiogi Harden as both leaped simultaneously.

"He's one of the best players in the nation," Starr said. "He shows it game in, game out. He's a once-in-a-lifetime player."

Dove showed grit in rallying Taft from deficits of 7-0 and 14-10. He completed 16 of 32 passes for 214 yards.

In the second half, he was eight of 12 for 153 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown pass to Paul Pratt.

"In the second half, I had to look off my receivers so I could get the defensive guys out of place," Dove said.

Carson (9-2) took a 14-10 lead on LaMar Queen's 13-yard touchdown run with 8:24 remaining. But moments later, Dove rolled right and threw the ball as far as he could. Smith ran it down for his 59-yard reception to the Carson seven-yard line.

"He made a couple special plays," Carson Coach John Aguirre said of Smith.

Taft's defense, led by linemen Octavio Flores and Damien Kelly, and linebacker Lance Broadus, was surprisingly effective.

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