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Taft Stakes Claim as Best in the City

November 16, 2002|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

Opponents can examine all the game films they want and listen to endless pep talks from their coaches, but finding a strategy to defeat unbeaten Woodland Hills Taft in the City Section playoffs that begin next week is going to be an overwhelming task.

"I don't think anybody can beat us when we play like this," All-City receiver Steve Smith said Friday night after the Toreadors, ranked No. 5 by The Times, dismantled Lake Balboa Birmingham, 30-6, to win the West Valley League championship and wrap up a No. 1 seeding for the playoffs.

Taft (10-0, 5-0) gave up a touchdown on Birmingham's opening possession, then didn't allow the host Patriots (7-3, 4-1) to come close to scoring again. It was 48 minutes of focus and domination against a team that might be the second-best in the City.

For the 10th consecutive week, the Toreadors refused to allow a ballcarrier to reach the 100-yard mark. This time, it was UCLA-bound tailback Dennis Keyes facing the wrath of Taft's swarming defense. He was limited to 86 yards. Quarterback Ryan Lombardo was sacked four times and completed 12 of 24 passes for 125 yards with three interceptions.

Meanwhile, Taft's offense had 413 yards. Quarterback Cary Dove completed 17 of 25 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown. Ian Bell rushed for 78 yards and backup Litrele Jones had 66 yards. Defensively, Eddie Lewis and Wallace Bates had two sacks each. Taft had lost to Birmingham the last two years because of its failure to stop the running game. Not this time.

"It's the best feeling ever right now," All-City linebacker Lance Broadus said. "They thought they were going to do a three-peat on us and we had to prove them wrong."

What makes Taft so imposing is its offensive speed and numerous weapons. It's almost like watching a video game unfold before your eyes, with Coach Troy Starr picking and choosing what to do. From Dove's passing to Bell's running, from throwing to Steve Smith, Paul Pratt or Noah Smith, the options are plentiful.

Starr even added a new wrinkle Friday, the screen pass to the fullback. Broadus caught the short pass and ran 31 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter to give Taft a 16-6 lead. Dove, who's 6 feet 3 and 180 pounds, has gained 15 pounds since last season. He scored on a one-yard run on the final play of the second quarter, dragging a Birmingham defender into the end zone for a 23-6 halftime lead.

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