It's Not My Dream Matchup

This Saturday¹s much-hyped game between De La Salle of Concord and Poly of Long Beach has been referred to as a dream matchup by many football fans. And since I've been watching both storied programs play for nearly 20 years, I'm pretty fired up, too.

But my dream matchup will be when two unbeaten teams like De La Salle and Poly meet each other in December with a CIF state championship on the line. If there were state championships in California, this week's game wouldn't likely be taking place. The teams instead would likely be meeting in a state championship game. Imagine that. A major venue like the Rose Bowl or Edison International Field or Network Associates Coliseum or the L.A. Coliseum or even Bulldog Stadium in Fresno packed with perhaps as many as 40,000. De La Salle vs. Long Beach Poly at the Vet in Long Beach with 20,000 played in early October can't come close to the excitement a state championship in California would have.

My dreams for such a state championship, however, will likely stay that way for a long time. There was a proposal several years ago put before the CIF Federated Council for a series of bowl games involving section champions from throughout the state, but it was voted down. Some administrators felt such a bowl game would only add more to the luster of a program like De La Salle at the detriment of others. There's also the problem of the massive CIF Southern Section. It controls a significant block of votes on the Federated Council and it doesn't take a genious to see that the Southern Section doesn't want a state championship. Its own Division I championship game would diminish in importance as the major prep football game of December and its finalist teams in 13 divisions already play 14 games.

Too many games is an argument you frequently hear about why state football playoffs have not been held in California since 1927, which is why probably the only way a state football playoff system will ever come about is to completely dismantle the current 10-section alignment of the CIF and start all over again, with an alignment of perhaps eight sections of equal size or 16 sub-sections with a larger Southern Section and a larger Northern Section.

Now, here's more about this Saturday's game, with my prediction at the end:

You really have to hand it to athletic directors Terry Eidson of De La Salle and Joe Carlson of Long Beach Poly for setting up this week's game. But they both do a lot more for their schools than just plan football schedules.

At De La Salle, Eidson coordinates a program that two years ago was the overall best in California. That year, the Spartans not only continued their dominance in football but they also were CIF state champs in boys basketball and were one of the nation's highest-ranked teams in baseball. De La Salle also has enjoyed success in recent years in cross country, soccer, track and volleyball.

At Poly, Carlson oversees what many think is the best overall all-time athletic program in U.S. history. And in the 2000-2001 school year the Jackrabbits won CIF state titles in cross country and girls track in addition to going 14-0 in football. A breakout season in girls volleyball and another strong boys track season also were highlights of the school year. This year, girls volleyball, boys cross country, boys basketball, girls basketball and both track teams could all join football as among the nation's finest.

Contrary to some opinion, De La Salle has faced teams with superior talent or equal talent at several junctures of its remarkable winning streak. It's just that the current bunch at Poly is likely much more talented than any squad the Spartans have faced before.

The most common misconception about the win streak is that the Spartans played a bunch of weaklings until they finally met up with Mater Dei in 1998. In actuality, their league in those early years of the streak was one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in the state.

Pittsburg High's teams, especially in 1994, 1995 and 1996, were loaded with talent. Ken Simonton, the All-American running back from Oregon State, and Jose Tafoya, an All-American defensive end last year at Arizona, were on those teams. Antioch High, before new school Deer Valley was built, also had strong teams at the time with players such as Jason Verduzco (later a record-breaking quarterback at Illinois) and Jeremy Newberry (lineman now with the San Francisco 49ers). In 1995, I'm now convinced that Pittsburg,
which lost twice to De La Salle by three touchdown margins, was better than any team in the CIF Southern Section.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram published a story earlier this week that reported the Poly coaches were upset that some in the media have stated De La Salle has a coaching advantage in the big game.

Guess what? It's true. But why should that upset the Poly coaches. De La Salle, with Bob Ladouceur (252-14-1) and Terry Eidson, would have a coaching advantage over 99 percent (maybe more) of high school teams in America.

I can understand the frustration sometimes of being a Poly coach. If the Jackrabbits win, it's because of the talent. If they lose, it's because of poor coaching.

Last year, we chose Jerry Jaso as our Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year,so it's not as if we don't respect what this staff has done. Their efforts in guiding young teams in 1999 and 2000 to a 27-0-1 record were tremendous. Now the staff no longer has Jaso as the point man (he's now at Long Beach City College) and has had to overcome the tragic death of assistant coach Kirk Jones. If head coach Raul Lara and his staff still beats De La Salle after all that and after playing three fairly weak opponents beforehand, please don't anyone say Poly won only because of talent. Saying De La Salle has a coaching advantage also does not mean it can't be overcome.

Two completely different story angles will emerge after the game.

If De La Salle wins in a close game, watch out for talk about next year's schedule, which may be wide open for the first five weeks. Will Poly go north next year to take another crack at beating the Spartans? Will the Spartans now have to start considering many offers from other parts of the country?

If Poly wins, watch out for all those stories about the De La Salle streak, how remarkable it was, who was president at the time, and how come nobody figured out a way to get President Clinton to the game (DLS last lost when a Bush was in the White House). A Poly win also will make the rest of the season in Southern California a lot more interesting. Will a team like Loyola of Los Angeles or Santa Margarita or some other Div. I team be able to mount a challenge to Poly, which might be vulnerable to an upset down the line after what would be a huge win over De La Salle.

Okay, beyond the usual stuff like turnovers and penalties and injuries, two key aspects of the game to look for are special teams and which team gets into obvious passing situations the most.

I think De La Salle may need a field goal or two in this one and the Spartans do have a kicker in James Bloomsburgh who can hit a 35-yard or 40-yard field goal if he has to. They also have legendary kick return execution. Many games in the streak have turned on a kickoff or punt return.

If De La Salle is in passing situations a lot, the Poly defense, with its eight-man defensive line rotations, can pin back its ears and come after quarterback Matt Gutierrez. Plus, the most unproven aspect of this year's De La Salle team at this point of the season is its receivers. Poly does throw a little, and can hit big plays off passes, but the Jackrabbits are mostly a running team and don't figure to be that proficient at picking up a lot of first downs when they have to pass.

For Poly to win I think there also has to be someone who comes up with a game-turning play: a 70-yard interception return, a 60-yard fumble return or a two-play sequence in which a looming De La Salle touchdown gets turned into a Poly touchdown the ot

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