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Taft Is Favored to Nail the Ending This Time

Football: Stunned by Dorsey on final play in last season's City Section title game, Toreadors are talented and determined.

September 10, 2002|ERIC STEPHENS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The play is in the past as far as the Woodland Hills Taft football team is concerned.

But according to the adage, to succeed in the future, you must learn from the past. So if the Toreadors are to win a City Section championship, they will have to master the art of special teams.

Dorsey defeated Taft, 19-14, for the title last season by blocking a punt on the game's final play and recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

A loss like that could weigh on a team, but Taft Coach Troy Starr said he isn't one to look back.

"It's a new year," said Starr, entering his 12th season. "We've just moved on."

If the sight of Henry Madge pouncing on the loose football in the end zone is more than a memory, the best way to erase it is to reach the Coliseum again and write a new ending. That could happen for Taft, the favorite to hoist the championship trophy in December.

Two-way star Steve Smith, who has 185 receptions and 19 interceptions in two varsity seasons, returns for his senior season as the reigning City player of the year. He teams with Noah Smith and Paul Pratt as a group of receivers who could double as a sprint relay team.

They have California-bound quarterback Cary Dove to get them the ball, and top linebacker prospect Lance Broadus leads the defense.

In late July, running back Ian Bell transferred to Taft from Pasadena Muir, where he ran for 947 yards and 12 touchdowns last season as a sophomore.

Carson should also be a title contender with its deep set of running backs, a bruising offensive line and a defense led by tackle Matt Malele.

Carson plays at Taft in a nonleague game on Sept. 20. The Toreadors knocked the Colts out of the playoffs last season with a 17-14 victory in the quarterfinals.

"Put it this way, I love to chase rather than lead," Carson Coach John Aguirre said of Taft's role as preseason favorite. "Do I still have a bad taste in my mouth? Yes."

Lake Balboa Birmingham has beaten Taft the last two seasons to win the West Valley League.

Led by Dennis Keyes, a top running back and defensive back, the Patriots have great team speed and figure to get a boost with the addition of quarterback Ryan Lombardo, a transfer from Newbury Park.

Defending champion Dorsey and Fremont, with returning All-City receiver Mark Bradford, also figure in the race for the title.

*

Adding flavor to the nonleague portion of the season are a number of intersectional games between City and Southern Section teams.

Among the matchups:

* Dorsey will play perennial Division I power Santa Margarita, No. 9 in The Times' preseason rankings, at Saddleback College on Sept. 27.

* Banning plays No. 14 Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, a Division III favorite, on Sept. 27 at Gardena High, Santa Fe Springs St. Paul on Oct. 4 at Gardena High and No. 3 Loyola on Oct. 12 at Glendale High.

* Birmingham will play host to No. 8 Newhall Hart, four-time Division III champion, on Oct. 4.

* Crenshaw plays at No. 6 Mission Viejo, the Division II champion, on Oct. 4 .

* Carson plays host to No. 2 Los Alamitos on Oct. 11.

Dorsey Coach Paul Knox said there are benefits to scheduling top Southern Section opponents.

"Some teams are feeling that they want to get some quality nonleague games in going into their league season," he said. "Maybe they want to get battle-tested."

Birmingham Coach Ed Croson said the benefits go both ways.

"The Southern Section schools recognize there is more speed and raw talent in the City," he said. "They want to see some of that before they get into their league. Our kids can see disciplined teams and kids that play hard."

Harbor City Narbonne's first-year coach, Manuel Douglas, said true respect for City Section football, which some have perceived as dropping off in quality in recent years, will only come with victories.

Crenshaw Coach Robert Garrett, whose team defeated Loyola three years ago, has no preference of opponents.

"It doesn't matter who they are," he said. "If they have a field, if they have a ball, we'll travel. We've never had a problem playing anybody."

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