A Day At Qualcomm

The 2002 San Diego Section football season came to a conclusion this past Saturday with three exciting games played at Qualcomm Stadium...with the tab stadium rental generously picked up by the Spanos family. A crowd of 21,237 for the day witnessed three exciting, entertaining games that produced one big surprise...one small surprise that includes a Cinderella story...and a story about a small Catholic school where the spirit of a community carried a team to its greatest athletic achievement.

First Game: Division III

Marian Catholic 49, St. Augustine 21

All year long the naysayers and disbelievers questioned the Marian Catholic Crusaders...they're too small and can't compete with the Div I and II schools...and, they could never beat a team from the north county...in fact, they shouldn't be playing in Div III with a Div IV enrollment...the section should never have granted them the only exception to move up.

The chatter continued amongst the pundits right up to the opening kickoff of the final game of the season. Problem is that quarterback Mario Ledesma, defensive back Mickey Pimentel (who I swear can be the next Ronnie Lott), wide receiver Jonathan Alvarado and running backs Patrick Gates, Marco Contreras and most of all Eugene Alaniz...did not hear one word of any of it!

What they did hear was the season long encouragement of their loving fans and the words of faith and wisdom from a hulk of a man, Father Vincent Hughes, the team's chaplain, who roams the sidelines like a New York City beat cop...and what they did do was lead this tiny school with an ethnically mixed enrollment of approximately 500 to an undefeated (13-0) season and a section championship.

The Crusaders didn't just win the game, they totally dominated and outplayed a talented St. Augustine Saints team (9-3-1) and their Div I college recruited quarterback Richard Kovalcheck, in every aspect of the game.

Alaniz, the Crusaders' senior ruining back who tore ligaments in his knee in the spanking of Castle Park in the season finale and has delayed surgery to repair the damage, started the game after being cleared to play and convincing first-year coach Matt White he was "willing to risk everything for his teammates."

"I prayed to God to be able to let me play," said Alaniz...and not only did he play, but he contributed 62 of the Crusaders 306 yards rushing on nine carries with a TD run.

Gates and Contreras added two TD runs each and Alvarado caught two passes (and St. Augustine with their proverbial pants down) for touchdowns from Ledesma, who usually only passes when absolutely necessary. Having to deal with so many running backs who can run for daylight coupled with the new-found passing game of the Crusaders was too much for the Saints to handle.

And then there was the Crusader defense. They completely shut down the St. Augustine running game and limited the section's leading rusher, Todd Newell, to 30 yards on 10 carries. Although Kovalcheck completed 19 of 34 passes for 306 yards and three TDs, he was intercepted four times, fumbled twice and was sacked three times...twice by the 6-1, 190-pound Pimentel, who forced one of Kovalcheck's fumbles while sacking the Saints signal-caller.

The well-conditioned Pimentel, who is hoping to play college ball, was a one man wrecking crew against the Saints, throwing aside blockers and sticking it to anyone on St. Augustine who dared cross his path.

Second Game: Division II

Oceanside 42, Helix 14

The long anticipated shootout between the Helix Highlanders and the Oceanside Pirates was more like an ambush. In fact, the only people in the press box (including the north county press corps) who were not somewhat stunned by the 28-0 halftime lead by Oceanside over Helix were a few Oceanside administrators whose raucous behavior was a bit distracting to the assembled pundits.

With "his swiftness" Reggie Bush held to 14 yards on nine carries and the entire Helix offense limited to 52 total yards on 25 plays, it was obvious Oceanside (11-2) coach John Carroll had finally figured out how to keep the genie in the bottle.

"This is the greatest game played by any football team I've ever been associated with," said a jubilant Carroll, who arguably has elevated himself to a position as the top coach in the section, after his team humiliated the Highlanders (11-2) 42-14 for his fourth championship in six visits to the section's big dance.

By the time Bush single-handedly brought his team some respectability by scoring on a combined 75-yard TD where he ran for 69 yards and flipped the ball to Rajive Otah for the final 6 yards...and returned a kickoff 91 yards for a TD...the game was well out of reach.

Oceanside's bulldog running back, Tyler Lavea, only gained 86 yards on 26 carries, but he converted every time when called upon in crucial situations and scored two touchdowns.

Soft-spoken quarterback Rick Coppack was superb as he has been all season. The 6-1, 180-pound senior completed 9 of 17 passes for 258 yards and two TDs and finished the season as the No. 2 passer in the county. His overall numbers of 163 completions on 260 attempts for 2,699 yards with 32 touchdowns, however, were superior to that of section leader Joel Allen of Christian...and against the toughest competition possible in the section. Coppack should garner a significant amount of support for Section Player of the Year by the local San Diego newspapers.

The Pirates finally got the monkey off their back after losing the first three meetings between the schools. This year it was at the big dance and earns Oceanside the top ranking in the section. Look for the rivalry between these two schools to continue for a few years to come.

Third Game: Division I

Carlsbad 14, Vista 13

When Carlsbad quarterback Ryan Sollod went down with a season-ending injury in the third game of the year, most everyone thought the Lancers' chances to be a factor in their league let alone the entire section were slim. Little did the Lancer faithful know at the time, but sophomore Sean Canfield, who was elevated to the varsity squad and inserted as the starting quarterback, would lead Carlsbad to eight straight victories...and avenge two straight losses to the Vista Panthers in both the semifinal game in last year's playoffs 29-28 as well as a 45-7 thumping earlier this year, by leading the Lancers to the 2002 Div I championship.

Canfield became only the third sophomore starting quarterback to win a section title as Carlsbad (10-2-1) captured its first section football championship since 1965...and the first in three tries for personable coach Bob McAllister with a breathtaking squeaker over Vista (10-3) in the nightcap of the triple-header action.

Canfield wasn't the only Cinderella story for Carlsbad. The defense, which had been run over in the earlier meeting this year, recovered five Vista fumbles on this night and held USC bound Vista running back Salo Faraimo to only 47 yards on 14 carries. The Lancers also successfully bottled up Panthers' running quarterback Mike Altieri, allowing him only 44 yards on 14 carries.

After this performance against a very talented Vista squad, the Lancers will move up in the section's final rankings...and with Canfield at the helm for the next two year's, Carlsbad should not catch anyone by surprise again...for a while.

Editor's Note: Thanks to Harold Abend for his reports throughout the season from the San Diego Section.

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