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It Takes Streak Smarts

Teams on a roll must deal with fame and pressure

September 18, 2004|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Some high school football teams talk about winning streaks in hushed tones, similar to baseball players who avoid talk of a no-hitter.

"There's some of that to it," said Coach Bob Johnson of Mission Viejo, whose 41-game winning streak, an Orange County record, ended in the Southern Section Division II final last season.

In other places, they speak openly about them, using the streaks as motivation to keep working hard in the heat of afternoon practice.

"It's a pretty big thing," said defensive lineman and tight end Jeff Miller of Westlake Village Westlake, which had the Southland's longest winning streak at 15 games before losing to Notre Dame, 41-6, Friday night. "We look at it like we have to protect the streak."

Which is something that isn't easy. The longest winning streak in high school football history came to a close Sept. 5, when Concord De La Salle, which had won 151 in a row, lost to Bellevue (Wash.), a three-time state 3A champion.

The De La Salle loss left Charlotte (N.C.) Independence with the longest winning streak in the nation. Through last Friday, it was at 64 games. Modesto Central Catholic entered play this week with California's longest at 37.

Westlake inherited the Southland's longest winning streak after Hacienda Heights Los Altos, the Southern Section's two-time defending Division VI champion, lost last week to defending Division X champion Lompoc, which is now tied for the Southland's longest winning streak at 14 with Fontana Kaiser, the two-time Division VIII section champion.

Notre Dame, the two-time defending Division III champion, scored three touchdowns in a four-minute span of the first half and forced six turnovers Friday en route to its victory over Westlake (1-1). The Warriors, Division IV champions last season, could muster only three passing yards in the first half and finished with 156 total yards, more than 100 of which came against Notre Dame's reserves.

Rodney Glass rushed eight times for 111 yards and three touchdowns for the Knights (2-0). Cary Harris and Shane Horton each had two interceptions in the win.

Notre Dame is now on the hit list. The Knights, who play at Palmdale next week in a rematch of last season's Division III final, have won 10 in a row.

"We'll be OK ... we're focused and have good leadership," said Josh Cordray, a Notre Dame defensive lineman. "A winning streak can be a disadvantage because everybody is gunning for you. But if you're on one and focused, it can be an advantage."

Northridge-based sports psychologist Drew Yellin agreed with Cordray to a point.

"When you get into higher numbers, you get to the point of diminishing returns," Yellin said. "At some point you become concerned about if the streak will end, and nobody wants to be on the team or in the game that ended the streak."

De La Salle Coach Bob Ladouceur said his team's streak was a blessing and a curse. It gave his team an intimidation advantage each time it stepped on the field and also helped motivate his players to perform at a high level.

But, Ladouceur said, "It was almost a detriment. Every article, every mention of our program was prefaced by the streak. It wasn't healthy. Kids shouldn't be identified by a football winning streak."

Johnson said he rarely addressed Mission Viejo's streak with his team in order to avoid the added pressure.

The 32nd victory of Mission Viejo's streak came against Long Beach Poly, the Division I champion in two of the previous three years.

"Obviously the only thing on my mind was getting the kids some good competition," Johnson said.

Sticking with that directive, Johnson secured a game against De La Salle for Oct. 9. When De La Salle's streak ended, Johnson heard rumblings from his players about how they felt cheated because they wanted to be the streak-busters.

"I was like 'What are you guys talking about?' " Johnson said.

"That is still going to be a very special game. To bump them off their streak is not the reason we're playing them. Streaks are not why we play football....

"If you keep winning, the streak takes care of itself. Lose and it's over."

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