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A Game of Hit and Miss

Football: Top-flight quarterback Matt Engle of El Segundo gets last laugh--and victory--in friendly rivalry with Lawrence Jackson, Inglewood's highly-touted defensive end.

October 12, 2002|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whenever the No. 1 pass rusher in Southern California, Lawrence Jackson of Inglewood High, goes against the No. 1 passer, Matt Engle of El Segundo, it's almost like watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

"I'm going to get you," Jackson says.

"You can't catch me," Engle says.

For two seasons, Engle has been one of the few quarterbacks to avoid becoming a Jackson sack victim.

"I'm going to get you," Jackson says.

"No you're not," Engle says.

It has reached the point where Jackson's coaches were overheard telling him, "You've sacked everybody in California except this guy."

Jackson, who is 6 feet 5, 235 pounds and mentions eating chicken strips and quarterbacks in the same breath, said of Engle, "He'd rather throw the ball out of bounds than get sacked. He just won't go down."

The two have become buddies, talking and joking around whenever they see each other away from football. But it was all business Friday night in a renewal of their cat-and-mouse game, with El Segundo (5-0) defeating Inglewood (3-2), 38-36, in a wild nonleague game that featured four lead changes in the fourth quarter.

Engle and the Eagles were kept off the scoreboard in the first half, when he completed only three of 14 passes for 17 yards and the Sentinels held a 6-0 lead.

The second half was an entirely different matter. Engle threw for five touchdowns, including a 27-yard pass to Ryan McDonald with five seconds left that was the game winner.

The winning score came as Engle drove his team 73 yards after Inglewood's Brian Flowers scored on a four-yard run with 43 seconds left.

In all, Engle completed 21 of 42 passes for 323 yards with no interceptions. He was sacked once--and it wasn't by Jackson.

Engle came into Friday's game as the top-ranked passer in Southern California, having completed 78.6% of his passes for 1,449 yards and 18 touchdowns. Jackson entered with 60 career sacks and a stack of college recruiting letters that could fill several lockers.

"I haven't seen a better [defensive end]," Inglewood Coach Kevin Moore said. "He can play the run, he can play the pass. He's big, strong and fast. I put 'special' in front of his name."

Engle can probably imagine himself one day sitting on the couch, watching an NFL game and seeing Jackson make a sack, then telling everyone, "He couldn't sack me."

Engle was reminding his offensive linemen this week about Jackson's obsession with sacking him.

"I told them how bad he wants to get me and they know," Engle said.

Engle is another in a long line of underrated and underestimated small quarterbacks. He's 6-0, 185 pounds, a three-year starter and had a streak of 230 passes without an interception. He has a 4.0 grade-point average and reads defenses better than some coaches. He's the son of long-time El Camino College offensive line coach Gene Engle.

El Segundo runs a West Coast offense with multiple sets and quick passes designed to keep defenses off balance.

"We practice it so much that reading linebackers is pretty easy," Engle said.

Engle has been receiving lots of interest from NCAA Division I-AA schools, but the big Division I schools still can't get over their height concerns.

"The way I feel is if a guy is 6-foot but can win you a championship, I'd rather take that guy than someone who's 6-5, looks good but doesn't win," he said. "I wish colleges would give me a chance because if I get that chance, I'll prove I can play."

Jackson has demonstrated for three years that he's a pass rusher with a college future. He lists, in no particular order, Washington, Tennessee, Miami, USC and Penn State as schools he's definitely considering.

As a defensive end, he compares sacking a quarterback to the excitement of a dunk in basketball.

"I get hyped after a sack, but I don't show it," he said. "It's my job. I love it. It pumps me up and it pumps the team up."

Sometimes Jackson talks a little too much, but there is a growing maturity in the way he plays. He's facing double teams designed to slow him down and isn't losing his composure.

"This year, to be honest, I understand it's not going to be a statistically great year because of what teams are planning to do," he said. "That's forcing my teammates to step up and make plays. If I get somebody else to make plays, then everything else is going to work."

Engle has been known to buy his offensive linemen doughnuts as motivation to protect him from pass rushers. The spotlight was on El Segundo's two tackles, Steve Urrutia and Shane Russell. This week, he was promising a bonus to keep Jackson away.

"They're getting second helpings," Engle said.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Getting Offensive

Matt Engle of El Segundo has been one of the top passers in the Southland the last two seasons. Here's a look at his game-by-game statistics:

*--* 2002 Cp-Att Yds TDs Int Opponent Result 21-42 323 5 0 Inglewood W, 38-36 21-26 374 4 0 Laguna Beach W, 41-14 24-30 451 5 1 West Torrance W, 51-28 17-23 327 4 0 St. Monica W, 45-27 15-19 297 5 0 Mary Star W, 42-14 2001 23-30 242 3 1 Inglewood W, 21-20 19-32 298 4 0 Morningside W, 36-8 34-42 340 4 1 North Torrance L, 56-37 15-32 244 2 1 Santa Monica L, 44-14 33-55 453 3 0 Torrance W, 36-26 15-23 253 4 0 Compton Centennial W, 50-0 27-39 388 4 0 South Torrance L, 35-31 23-36 313 4 0 Fillmore W, 38-8 18-28 296 2 0 Mary Star L, 29-28

*--*

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