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Tackling a Win-Win Situation

Prep football: Long Beach Poly confronts Concord De La Salle and its national-record 129-game win streak today.

October 12, 2002|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beating Concord De La Salle High the last 10 years has been sort of like protecting the ozone layer--everyone has their own ideas how to do it, but no one has been able to deliver.

Bruce Rollinson thought his Santa Ana Mater Dei team had found a way to end De La Salle's national-record winning streak two years ago. But the Monarchs fell short in the final minute when their kicker pulled a short field goal wide, and the Spartans won, 31-28.

"At that point, I go, 'That guy has better rosary beads than me,' " Rollinson said of De La Salle's Bob Ladouceur, his Catholic school counterpart.

De La Salle manhandled Mater Dei by a combined score of 135-55 during the four-game series between the Northern and Southern California powers. Yet, the Monarchs came closer than any other team to beating the Spartans in what has blossomed into a 129-game winning streak.

"Do you take any solace in it?" Rollinson said, repeating a question. "To me, it's a loss."

Still, Rollinson is among the few coaches capable of providing insight about De La Salle to Long Beach Poly Coach Raul Lara, whose Jackrabbits (4-0) will attempt to defeat the Spartans (4-0) at 2 p.m. today at California's Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. Fox Sports 2 will broadcast the game at 7.

De La Salle defeated Poly, 29-15, last year in Long Beach. And no one has to tell Lara where his team fell short. The Jackrabbits dropped potential touchdown passes and failed to make tackles.

"It just let me know how crucial it is to execute when you play against the best," Lara said this week. "With a team that great, you have to execute every play."

Victor Galli thinks there's a lot more to knocking off De La Salle than execution. And he should know. Galli played on the first Spartan team to go undefeated, in 1982, and coached De La Salle's freshman and junior varsity teams for five seasons before being hired by rival Pittsburg High, where he is in his first year as head coach.

"It's not an impossible thing to do," Galli said of beating De La Salle. "What they do is not rocket science."

Galli and several others with knowledge of the Spartans formed this checklist to beat De La Salle:

* Apply pressure by taking an early lead.

De La Salle rarely plays from behind--the Spartans haven't trailed this season--and could get rattled if an opponent went ahead by more than a touchdown in the early going. Said Rollinson: "They're not in adverse situations that often. It's the one thing you can count on that they haven't experienced."

One De La Salle player came into the locker room crying several years ago after dropping a potential touchdown pass before halftime of a tight game the Spartans led. Typically, De La Salle has the game in hand by the end of the second quarter.

"Their track record has been that they jump on you early and they go on cruise control from there," said Honolulu St. Louis Coach Delbert Tengan, whose team trailed, 21-0, before scoring in its 31-21 loss to De La Salle three weeks ago.

* Adjust to De La Salle's adjustments.

Coaches often think they know how to exploit the Spartans' weaknesses after watching tape or scouting them in person. And while their plan may work for a series or two, the Spartans always seem to find a way to nullify the advantage.

"It's kind of like a chess match," Galli said. "You have to know what you're going to do and anticipate how they will adjust to it."

* Minimize mistakes and capitalize on De La Salle's.

The Spartans have lost four fumbles and had a pass intercepted this season but have still outscored their opponents, 125-48. "They make mistakes," said Tengan, "but you better pounce on them. Poly has to capitalize. And when you get a guy open, you have to get him that ball."

Poly receiver Derrick Jones got open three times last year against De La Salle. And the Poly quarterback got him the ball on each occasion--only to watch Jones drop potential touchdown passes in the first, second and fourth quarters.

"When things go bad [against De La Salle] you see the air get deflated out of people," Galli said. "That's when teams go flat."

* Prepare for unheralded players.

Poly defensive back Freddie Parish said the Jackrabbits had never heard of Spartan running back Maurice Drew before last year's game. Poly had geared up to stop Alijah Bradley, the De La Salle tailback who had gained 206 yards against Mater Dei two weeks earlier.

Drew scored all four of De La Salle's touchdowns against Poly.

"They always come up with a wrinkle you haven't seen," said Oakland Skyline Coach John Beam, whose last victory over the Spartans came in 1984. "That's one thing that sets them apart."

Two players to watch are running backs Jackie Bates and Gino Ottoboni, Drew's backups this season.

Of course, coming up with a plan to beat De La Salle and carrying it out are different things.

"I think people have gone in with the right plan but haven't been able to execute it," Tengan said. "I didn't feel like we had to play over our heads to beat them. We just needed to play better than we did."

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