TOM SHANAHAN'S SAN DIEGO SECTION ROUNDUP

No. 1 Marian hopes to maintain edge after one-week hiatus.

It was the weekend when San Diego football vanished from the landscape, displaced by devastating wildfires that spread from city borders to mountain villages. Many San Diegans were caught in struggles for life, safety and property. The unhealthy air conditions resulted in all high school football games scheduled for Oct. 31 being canceled by the CIF San Diego Section office.

San Diego State, by coincidence, had a bye week on its schedule. Then there's the Chargers, who aren't playing much football even in ideal conditions. They left town to practice at the University of Illinois before suffering their seventh loss in eight games at Chicago.

So beginning this week, the relief that sports so often provides from natural disasters or other tragedies has started to take root. Schools re-opened Monday and teams returned to the practice field to prepare for Friday's games.

Players and coaches are looking forward to regaining timing and -- for the winning clubs -- momentum that had been gained through the first seven weeks. But no team has as much experience at finding ways to remain sharp as Marian Catholic, San Diego's top-ranked team and the state's No. 1 Division IV team for CalHiSports.com. The Crusaders (7-0 overall, 2-0 in the South Bay League) travel Friday, Nov. 7 to Southwest (3-4, 0-1 South Bay League).

Marian has been unchallenged in its previous four wins, outscoring Bonita Vista, Mar Vista, Montgomery and Hilltop 263-13 despite coach Matt White's efforts to throttle back the offense. Marian's Patrick Gates, one of the leading candidates for the section's offensive player of the year award, only had five carries in 105 yards in the win over Montgomery.

White has compensated for the mismatches on Friday nights by making Wednesday's practices tougher than the games.

"We set things up so that the offense will fail against the defense," White said. "We'll call plays that we know will hurt us against the defense. We want to see how we deal with it. We want to create as much adversity as we can so we can overcome it when it happens on a Friday night."

Beginning this week, the Wednesday workout no longer must serve as the toughest day of the week. Southwest, Castle Park and Eastlake remain on the schedule.

White said he learned the value of physical midweek practices to keep his team sharp two years ago after the Crusaders' were upset by Mission Bay in the 2001 Division III championship game. Marian, a Division IV school that this season is playing up a division for the third straight year, was 12-0 heading into the 2001 final, meaning the Crusaders' current winning streak of 20 games could otherwise be 33.

"Mission Bay dominated us physically, and we haven't taken anything for granted since then," said White, the USDHS alum who is 20-0 in his two years as a head coach after serving as an assistant under former Marian coach Mike David. "I don't care who you play, you have to be ready to be physical."

But even when Gates, quarterback Scotty Goodloe and other starters aren't the focus of the offense as the score gets out of hand, the Crusaders find ways to challenge themselves on defense or as blockers.

"Because Patrick and Scotty are playing on both sides of the ball, it takes away from some of the dullness (of lopsided scores)," White said. "Patrick had two interceptions against Hilltop and returned one for a touchdown. Scotty returned one against Montgomery."

Another secret to Marian's success is the Crusaders' ability to make key downfield blocks. That includes Gates, running backs Mathew Cruz and Emanuel Escalada and wide receivers Jonathan Rivera and Jonathan Alvarado.

"The thing about Patrick is he is a total team player," White said. "I haven't heard one word (of dissatisfaction) from him about carries. That's what I expect from him. We have a team system that spreads the ball around, and Patrick is about the best blocker we have. That's something we stress to the kids. Our wide receivers are both third-year starters. The kids know our big plays come from blocks downfield."

Now Marian has to prove it can transfer that Wednesday practice intensity to Friday night games against teams that for the remainder of the season are more capable of testing their talent, teamwork and selflessness than was the case the past month.

MAKEUP SCHEDULE

The canceled Oct. 31 games will be played Nov. 21, which was supposed to be the first round of the playoffs. The four-week playoff schedule was subsequently pushed back a week. The shift means the four division championship games on Dec. 15 at Qualcomm Stadium have been moved to Wednesday, Dec. 17. The semifinals are Friday, Dec. 12.

THIS WEEK'S FIVE-PACK

Madison (4-3, 1-1 Harbor League) at Crawford (7-0, 2-0 Harbor League) -- Crawford, 2-7-1 a year ago, hopes to set up a showdown next week with Coronado for the league title. But Madison has other ideas and ends the Colts' unbeaten season.

Fallbrook (5-2, 2-0 Avocado League) at Oceanside (6-1, 2-0 Avocado League) -- A week after Fallbrook hoped to improve its unbeaten league record against La Costa Canyon's undefeated Avocado mark, the Warriors are rewarded with a date against the only other Avocado school with an unblemished mark in league play. Oceanside's offense has found balance with its running and passing game. The Pirates have too much balance for Fallbrook.

Torrey Pines (6-1-0, 1-1-0 Palomar League) vs. Rancho Buena Vista (5-1-1, 1-0-1 Palomar League) -- These are two teams that have overachieved with modest talent. RBV is the pick here to set up a showdown with cross-town rival Vista for the league title.

West Hills (4-3, 1-0 Grossmont North League) at Grossmont (6-1, 1-0 Grossmont North League) -- West Hills' passing game will keep the Wolfpack in the hunt for a league title with a win over the surprising Foothillers.

Bonita Vista (4-3, 1-0 Mesa League) at Chula Vista (7-0, 2-0 Mesa League) -- Chula Vista, with its biggest offensive line in school history, will all but mathematically wrap up the league title by beating the Barons.

Editor's Note: Tom Shanahan is the San Diego Section correspondent for Cal-Hi Sports. He wrote and covered San Diego high school sports and San Diego sports for 18 years for the San Diego Union-Tribune. We're honored to have his byline on our site and San Diego athletes and coaches should be honored that Tom still wants to continue to write about them in some capacity as he pursues other interests in addition to journalism.


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