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Laguna Hills Living in the Now After Slow Start

Football: On verge of falling to 3-6 four weeks ago, Hawks have won four straight to reach Division VI semifinals.


It was 15 minutes that changed a season, a halftime talk that succinctly spelled out the stakes.

"Fellas," Coach Bruce Ingalls told his Laguna Hills players, "you have 24 minutes to turn your season around, and if you want any chance of postseason play, you have to do it right now."

His players responded. They came from 14 points behind to beat Aliso Niguel, 30-24, on Nov. 2 and haven't stopped since. Four victories later, the Hawks are in the Southern Section Division VI semifinals, an unlikely opponent tonight for fourth-seeded Lakewood Mayfair.

Among the five teams that upset top-seeded schools last week, Laguna Hills, now 7-5, had the worst regular season-record. The Hawks were 3-5 before rallying to defeat Aliso Niguel. The opponents were tough--Mission Viejo, Santa Ana Foothill and Newport Harbor among them--but they were losses nevertheless.

The Hawks, who finished third in the Sea View League, were a team whose inconsistencies--a blown assignment here, a fumbled opportunity there--always seemed to put them in a hole.

"When they get their backs to the wall and are pinned in the corner, they decide to do something," Ingalls said. "No question about it, it's a dangerous way to try to win a section title."

Sophomore linebacker Travis Bengard, one of the defense's biggest hitters, has a theory about his team's wait-till-the-last-moment attitude: "Either you're going to lose or you're going to win right now. We play better when we see the end."

In the upset of top-seeded El Modena last Friday, Laguna Hills trailed, 21-7, going into the fourth quarter. The Hawks won in overtime, 31-24. They got a couple of long pass plays from quarterback Chris Johnson to Dane Endly, including a 59-yard touchdown, and tied the score in regulation after offensive lineman Saiosi Makaufaki picked up a blocked field goal and ran for a first down, which led to Andrew Larson's 26-yard field goal. That kind of break eluded Laguna Hills most of the season.

In overtime, the Hawks played power football behind backs Matt Chandler and Adam Berutich, the former scoring from one yard. On El Modena's possession, defensive end Preston Clover stripped the ball and Brad Bollhagen--one of five sophomores on defense--recovered.

"When we recovered the fumble, it was like, 'We did it, we did it,"' said Endly, the Hawks' big-play receiver. "It was such a hard task, and we overcame it."

Laguna Hills' season has been filled with hard tasks--overcoming injuries to key players, unfortunate breaks and, perhaps most important, a feeling that the team didn't fully believe in itself. After all, the Hawks did not win a league game a year ago.

"We weren't a proven commodity," said senior Jordan Johnson, an inside linebacker whom Ingalls considers an on-field coach. "We had to grow as a team because we weren't sure of ourselves."

This, despite Ingalls and his coaching staff preaching weekly that the Hawks could--and should--contend for a title.

"I don't think everyone believed that we could win until we started winning, and that started with Aliso," Johnson said. "Everyone was sick of losing, sick of getting pushed around."

And now, Laguna Hills does the pushing.

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