A Season of Tradition and Turnarounds : Baldwin Park's Braves Tumble, Walnut's Mustangs Kick Up Heels

Times Staff Writer

Until this year, the 1980s had been a pretty good decade for football at Baldwin Park High.

Under Coach Trifone Pagone, the Braves had posted a 54-6 record during the last five years--best in the CIF Southern Section.

Who could have predicted that Baldwin Park would lose its first four games this season?

It has been much the opposite at Walnut, which apparently was just having an off decade until this season.

The Mustangs, who finished with a 2-8 record last year and 2-7 the year before, have a 3-1-1 mark this season.

Those are two of the most striking twists of fortune by San Gabriel Valley teams at the midway point of the 1985 prep football season.

No Relief for Bassett

There also are a lot of teams that have lived up to tradition--good and bad. Bishop Amat and Diamond Bar, two traditional valley powerhouses, are off to 5-0 starts and Bassett, which has lost 19 in a row, is 0-5.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the resurgence of Walnut and Nogales, two Sierra League teams that have struggled in recent years.

The success of Walnut may coincide with the arrival of former Bishop Amat Coach Jim Patricio on campus.

Patricio had established a winning tradition at Bishop Amat, guiding his teams to a 49-19-1 record from 1979 through 1984 including a second-place finish in the powerful CIF Big Five Conference in 1983.

So it is not surprising to see Patricio's first Walnut team winning.

With a surplus of juniors and sophomores, the Mustangs have relied on senior quarterback Dan Crockett and his brother Brian, a junior wide receiver, and senior running back Scott Potter.

What may be even more surprising is the early-season success of Nogales, 2-7 in 1983 and 3-7 in the first year with Laing Stevens as coach in 1984.

The Nobles have jumped out to a 4-1 mark, thanks partly to explosive running back Darryl Lewis, a senior who has rushed for 731 yards and 9 touchdowns. Other leaders are quarterback Tim Wells and wide receiver and defensive back Ron Lattimore.

The only loss for Nogales was a 14-9 setback to Diamond Bar in its opener, the closest game of the year for the Brahmas.

Another big turnabout has been at Webb, where the Gauls have posted a 3-1 record. Before this season, the Claremont school had an 18-game losing streak that started in October of 1982. The streak came to an end with a 32-20 victory over the California School for the Deaf on Sept. 23.

Charter Oak (5-0) has shown a dramatic form reversal from last year's 3-7 squad.

The success is not a big surprise, though.

Charter Oak merged with cross-town rival Royal Oak (11-2 record last year) after last season and the difference has been staggering. The Chargers have rolled up 247 points in their first five games to lead the CIF Southern Section in scoring and have allowed only 18 points.

The standouts have been senior running backs Jeff Obert and brothers Mark and Mike Smith and quarterback John Strycula.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Baldwin Park, which has gone from riches to rags with losses to Northview (21-19), South Hills (14-0), Charter Oak (46-6) and San Dimas (26-6).

Not that the decline of the Braves was entirely unexpected.

With only two starters returning, Coach Pagone said before the season that his team was headed for a rebuilding year.

Few believed him, probably because Baldwin Park reached the CIF Southeastern Conference finals last year with an 11-2 record and has produced outstanding athletes such as wide receiver Ron Brown (Los Angeles Rams) and quarterback Michael Johnson (Arizona State).

After four games, people may finally believe Pagone.

Two other teams that have experienced slow starts after strong seasons are Keppel and Covina.

Like Baldwin Park, Keppel lost most of its players from a team that finished 8-3 and reached the CIF Southeastern Conference quarterfinals. That may help explain why the Aztecs have slipped to 0-3-1 this season.

Covina Stumbles

More surprising has been the difficulty of Covina (1-3), which returned most of its top players after a 6-4 season. But the only victory for the Colts has been a 14-0 win over Gladstone, and Covina has been outscored 107-26.

The success of Bishop Amat and Diamond Bar is no surprise.

Things have not changed much at Bishop Amat since the arrival of Don Markham, former successful coach at Colton who replaced Patricio. The Lancers are still a CIF Big 5 Conference power that has a powerful rushing game.

Bishop Amat, which may have one of its best teams in recent years, has been led by running back Eric Bieniemy, who has rushed for 757 yards and 9 touchdowns in 109 carries, and senior quarterback Rick Carter has completed 46 of 84 passes for 641 yards and 7 touchdowns.

The Lancer offense, one of the best in the valley, has scored 165 points. The defense, led by linebacker Ramon Diaz and defensive back Sean Canova, has allowed only 28 points.

Diamond Bar has yet to approach its offensive totals of last year when the Brahmas scored a state-record 639 points and waltzed to the CIF Southeastern Conference title with a 14-0 record.

However, one constant has remained constant. The Brahmas keep winning. Diamond Bar has a 19-game streak, second longest in the CIF behind Canyon of Saugus (29).

The Brahmas have been especially strong on defense, registering three shutouts and allowing only 23 points. The offense is led by senior running back Kraig Washington and wide receiver Curt Ledesma.

Other traditional valley powers that are having their usual outstanding seasons include Muir, Claremont, Los Altos and Rowland, all at 4-1, and undefeated Arroyo at 5-0.

Arroyo may be the biggest surprise of the group since the Knights lost most of their starters from last year's 11-2 team that reached the CIF Southeastern Conference quarterfinals. Coach Don MacKinnon's team has used mostly juniors and sophomores to outscore Arroyo's first five opponents, 91-37.

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