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All Is Not Lost

When 0-8 teams meet, it means little to fans but everything to players

November 09, 2002|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

On rain-soaked fields across Southern California Friday night, dozens of high school football games were played that had playoff and league-championship implications. But no game meant more to the players involved than the one for sixth place in the seven-team Garden Grove League.

Westminster La Quinta and Garden Grove Bolsa Grande both came in with 0-8 records, and players from both schools knew this was their best chance for a victory.

La Quinta got it, 32-8, in a game played through a thick fog and before about 200 fans at Bolsa Grande High.

"It feels great," said La Quinta running back Minh Ngo, who rushed for 223 yards and a touchdown in 23 carries. "The whole team worked hard for this every day."

The team celebrated the victory by tackling Coach Guy Gardner in inch-thick mud on the sidelines. "We're going to have a fun bus ride home," Gardner said. "We've been waiting for this ride."

For Bolsa Grande, there was one minor victory. A touchdown. With a few seconds left in the game, quarterback Jonathan Gonzalez scored on an eight-yard run.

"That will help keep them up," Bolsa Grande Coach Jim Lamb said. "They stuck with it tonight."

For Bolsa Grande, any victories will continue to come outside the win-loss column. They'll be in the form of a receiver who has mastered a new route, the personal growth of a 5-foot-8 quarterback who can barely see over his linemen, the pride that comes from scoring a rare touchdown.

That's the way it is when you're 0-for-the-season, own a 33-game losing streak and have one win in five years -- a span of 55 games. The Matadors lost other league games this season by scores of 48-6 and 44-6.

James Borbon, a senior lineman, recalls league rival Garden Grove Pacifica trouncing the Matadors when he was a sophomore.

"You're never going to feel good when you lose 66-0," he said at a practice this week.

Borbon many times has been tempted to quit the team -- scores of players have over the years -- but something keeps bringing him back to practice. Together, Borbon and his teammates keep moving forward, week after week, approaching each new opponent as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean.

Until Friday, the season had gone much the same way at La Quinta, which is located about 2 1/2 miles from Bolsa Grande. The Aztecs could have filled a blooper video with their blunders in the first eight games, yet when the players look back on the season they feel a certain sense of accomplishment.

"If it was about winning and losing I would have quit a long time ago," senior Rawaha Memon, a center and linebacker, said at a practice this week. "I'm still here because I want to play football. I have a lot of pride in being on this team. I don't care about our record. I just care about playing with these guys."

Both teams have one more game. La Quinta will meet Garden Grove Pacifica this Friday, the same night Bolsa Grande closes out against Fountain Valley Los Amigos -- a last chance at glory for seniors like Jesus Jimenez, a wide receiver and defensive back.

"We just want to get that first win before we graduate," said Jimenez, who has never experienced a varsity victory.

Most of Bolsa Grande's seniors were on the freshman team when the Matadors last won a varsity game, 18-0, over La Quinta on Oct. 18, 1999.

Sylvester Jefferson, a senior tight end and defensive end, remembers the atmosphere surrounding that victory, which snapped a 21-game losing streak. "It was like we won the Super Bowl," he said.

At both schools, football players are stung by the pointed comments of classmates. Among the most common: "When are you guys going to win?" and "Nobody comes to your games because you don't win."

Said Jimenez: "I just tell them they're not out here, they're not playing, so what do they know?"

La Quinta's recent football history hasn't been quite as grim. The Aztecs won their season finale last year and came close twice earlier this season.

La Quinta would have beaten Buena Park ... had it not been stopped at the one-yard line on the last play of the game. The Aztecs lost, 32-28.

La Quinta might have beaten Garden Grove Santiago ... if tight end Henri Nguyen's third-quarter catch in the end zone hadn't been ruled a fumble. The Aztecs lost, 28-21, even though coaches argued that if Nguyen had fumbled the ball in the end zone he would have first had to have possession for the touchdown.

"It was very emotional," Nguyen recalled. "We had to pick each other up and go on to the next play."

In recent weeks, La Quinta had been without Gardner, who had taken leave to be with his terminally ill father. Assistant Mike Barton assumed coaching duties for the game last week against Santiago. Gardner's father died Wednesday and he rejoined the Aztecs on Friday.

La Quinta Athletic Director Jim Perry, who helps tape the football players before practice, said the team has somehow managed to remain enthusiastic.

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