The Streak Continues

Give Concord (Calif.) De La Salle credit. The Northern California high school has been the Student Sports No. 1 team in the nation for many years--- a 126 game winning streaking going back to 1991 will do that for you---but the Bob Ladouceur-led Spartans haven't exactly dodged top competition. Saturday night's test in Hawaii, however, loomed as the biggest threat yet to what is simply known as "The Streak."

After successfully going through top Golden State powers such as Mater Dei, Bakersfield and Long Beach Poly over the last few year, this weekend saw De La Salle embarking on its longest road trip to date in a much-anticipated battle with the top program in Hawaii over the last 20 years, Honolulu St. Louis.

The home town favorites are quite accustomed to compiling impressive streaks of its own, most notably a stretch of eight consecutive state titles in the last decade.

Something had to give when the two titans met and first year Crusaders' coach Delbert Tengan found out what opponents have come to learn when lining up against Ladoucer's teams: the Spartans' disciplined and deceptive veer comes at you hard and fast, the defense doesn't give up many big plays, the special teams are, well, "special," and, worst of all, before you know it the Spartans usually jump to at least a two touchdown lead before most fans have found their seats.

That was the case in De La Salle's 31-21 win over the Crusaders before an announced crowd of 30,050 in Honolulu's Rainbow Stadium. Before the home team got its initial first down, early in the second quarter, the score was already 14-0 and St. Louis never would get closer than two touchdowns.

In fact, the Golden State visitors were so dominant in the first quarter, they held the ball for nearly nine of the 12 minutes and had 186 yards of offense to only four by St. Louis.

A key early in the game was the quarterback play. Going into the contest, it would seem natural that Spartan quarterback Britt Cecil, in only his second varsity start, could come out tight, but the senior was nearly perfect in leading De La Salle to 276 total yards of offense and a 21-7 lead at halftime.

On the St. Louis side, three-year starter Bobby George looked out of sync early overthrowing receivers and coming up with only one completion, for nine yards, on his first five attempts.

He eventually would hit some big plays to standout receivers like Bobby Rivers and Shane Butcher and finished the night with impressive numbers, 18-27 for 258 yards and two touchdowns (13, 65), but for the most part the completions came after the early damage by De La Salle was done.

"I know our strength is the defensive backfield," said senior corner Damon Jenkins, "and that they can throw, but we kept our composure. Actually, we knew that last week we didn't play very well and we had to step up this week."

Filling the All-American shoes of star quarterback Matt Gutierrez of a year ago, who's now at Michigan, Cecil was an efficient six of 10 for 116 yards and his one-yard touchdown sneak with 5:07 in the opening quarter put the first Spartan points on the board.

De La Salle had three different players rush for touchdowns in the first half.

Maurice Drew, undoubtedly the biggest weapon on this year's De La Salle team, re-injured his ankle on a punt return early in the first quarter, but despite limping noticeably for much of the game was able to run for 95 yards on eight first half carries including a 17-yard scoring burst that extended the De La Salle lead to 21-0 at 4:54 before half.

Drew finished the night with 19 carries for 132 yards and one touchdown.

The other De La Salle score came on a six yard scamper by running back Jackie Bates on the last play of the first quarter.

St. Louis stayed in the game by putting together a six play, 80-yard drive shortly before intermission that was highlighted by Bobby George completing four of five passes including a 52 yarder to receiver Shane Butcher that put the ball at the 13.

On third and eight, George hit star receiver Jason Rivers with a 13-yard pass in the corner of the end zone to put the score at 21-7 with 1:39 remaining before half.

However, any momentum the Crusaders may have had coming out in the second half was muted by the return abilities of Damon Jenkins, who took a punt 42 yards to the St. Louis 31 after St. Louis' opening drive stalled.

Tony Binswanger eventually hit a 43-yard field goal that put De La Salle up 24-7. He was also a major factor in the game as all seven of his kick-offs went deep in the end zone forcing St. Louis to start every drive on its 20.

Another amazing stat: De La Salle did not punt until 3:44 left in the game and when it did Binswanger pooched the ball to the three yard line.

"Our special teams were great," said Ladouceur. "They gave us excellent field position, which was a key throughout. Damon Jenkins returns were critical."

St. Louis closed the gap to 24-14 with 1:23 left in the third quarter as George engineered a 13-yard, 80 play drive capped by running back B.J. Batts one-yard dive over the line for a touchdown.

Jenkins shut down any last chance of St. Louis getting closer by returning the subsequent squib kick to the St. Louis 33. The Spartans gambled on a fourth and one at the Crusaders' 13, but Drew ran for four yards and a few plays later Gino Ottoboni crashed in from the one to put the score at 31-14 with 8:41 left in the game.

St. Louis put the final points on the board with a late 65-yard George to Butcher pass with 1:15 remaining.

The key stat of the game may have been rushing yards. St. Louis was only able to run for 47 yards while De La Salle controlled much of the game on the ground as shown by its 189 yards.

"It was really wasn't an easy trip," said a tired, but happy Ladouceur after the game, "but our guys did a great job improving from last week period. St. Louis had a great team, just as good as any team we played. It was a big step up for us this week."

Jenkins agreed the week on the Islands was well worth the trip.

"We stayed at our hotel, we did what we had to do, and we bonded really well and got it done."

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