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Shaky Midterm Grade for Some Top Teams

October 16, 2003|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

With high school football's regular season half over and most teams beginning league play this week, it's time to issue some progress reports.

The season has already produced several surprises, including a couple of perennial Southern Section powerhouses beginning in tailspins.

Newhall Hart opened with three consecutive losses for the first time since 1985, and Santa Ana Mater Dei came out of the gate 0-3 for the first time since 1968. Each has rebounded to win its last two games.

Hart and Mater Dei faced stiff tests during the nonleague portions of their schedules. Other teams, however, have scheduled few challenges.

So, records aside, how have some of the Southland's most prominent teams performed so far?

The progress reports:


* Los Alamitos -- The Griffins, ranked No. 1 by The Times all season, have been forced to play hard in all four quarters of some games. That's perfectly understandable against Hart but not against Brea Olinda. Still, until they're upset, Randy Estes & Co. will always be in control. Los Alamitos' biggest challenge for the Sunset League title is likely to come tonight, when it plays No. 24 Huntington Beach Edison, but don't overlook surprising Fountain Valley, ranked 19th.

* Mission Viejo --The Diablos have dangled on the edge of expected defeat (against Long Beach Poly) and unexpected defeat (against Fountain Valley). However, each of these one-point victories demonstrates the winning nature of the Mission Viejo program, which set the Orange County record for consecutive victories with its 33rd last week. The only team with a chance to challenge for the South Coast League title, San Clemente, plays host to the Diablos on Oct. 31.

* Hacienda Heights Los Altos -- The defending Division VI champions have done nothing to show they are in any danger of relinquishing their title. The No. 9 Conquerors are 5-0, including a victory over Division IX champion La Habra. Covina Charter Oak and Hacienda Heights Wilson are each 4-1 entering Miramonte League play, but the toughest test remaining for Los Altos during the regular season will be a nonleague game against Covina South Hills on Oct. 24.


* Riverside North -- The No. 3 Huskies were expected to put pressure on teams early and often with their speedy skill players, including twins Damon and Dion Morton, but nobody could have expected them to score on the first play of their first four games. (Yeah, yeah, the Week 2 touchdown was nullified by a penalty, but so what?) North is expected to roll through the Ivy League and probably won't be challenged until deep into the Division V playoffs.

* West Covina South Hills -- These Huskies are the defending Division VII champions, but few expected them to hold their own in their season opener against Claremont, one of the top teams in the Division II coaches' preseason poll. South Hills didn't blink in scoring a 14-6 victory. The No. 16 Huskies should romp to the San Antonio League title.

* Orange Lutheran -- The Lancers' 35-14 victory over Mater Dei may have signified the passing of the torch to the premier private-school football team in Orange County. With big-name Division I recruits and big-time facilities, including a synthetic turf practice field, No. 7 Orange Lutheran will consider its season a disappointment if it doesn't reach the Division VI title game.

Needs Improvement

* Santa Ana Mater Dei -- Monarch fans had to wait awhile for their first victory, but that was one tough nonleague schedule: Orange Lutheran, Mission Viejo and Riverside North. Still, No. 22 Mater Dei isn't used to being the underdog against anyone. However, facing their always-tough Serra League opponents with a team that Coach Bruce Rollinson says must become more efficient inside the 20-yard line and play better defense, the Monarchs can expect to continue to wear that mantle, including Friday night against defending league champion Bellflower St. John Bosco.

* Los Angeles Loyola -- The Cubs' offensive line averages 260 pounds and has three members being courted by Division I schools, but it isn't dominating opponents. Running back Trason Bragg was held to 28 yards in 12 carries in last week's 23-16 loss to Hart. Loyola also lost to Venice, 17-13, in an intersectional game that delighted many City Section followers. This doesn't bode well for a successful Loyola run through the Serra League. But remember, this is a league that sent all six of its teams to the Division I playoffs last year.

* Corona Centennial -- The Huskies became a fixture in everybody's shooting gallery when they beat Riverside North, 57-55, in a triple-overtime shootout in last year's Division V title game. After giving up only eight points in its first two games, No. 12 Centennial has surrendered 126 in its last three. Even winless Redlands got within a touchdown last week before the Huskies scored with four seconds left in a 41-27 victory.

* Long Beach Poly -- The No. 5 Jackrabbits are their own worst enemies. Considered to have more talented players than Mission Viejo when the teams met on Oct. 2, Poly suffered two blocked extra points, a missed 23-yard field goal, two failed two-point conversions and a handful of mistakes on both sides of the ball in a 28-27 defeat. Undefeated Lakewood would like to keep Poly from yet another Moore League title and will have its chance on Nov. 7.

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