Although Cal Lutheran has been pounded for four weeks like a runt in a neighborhood of spike-beanied bullies, the Kingsmen will be playing for a football championship Saturday at Azusa Pacific.
That's right, these are the same Kingsmen who are 0-4 in the Western Football Conference, 4-5 overall and have so many players injured that the cheerleaders may have to trade their pompons for shoulder pads. Cal Lutheran will play Azusa in a one-game showdown for the National Assn. of Interscholastic Athletics District III title.
"It's like a shoot-out on a Hollywood movie set," CLC Coach Bob Shoup said. "It's not for real. We'll walk around behind the people and buildings and see they have no backs."
District III, in educational parlance, is a declining enrollment district. It consisted of 13 teams in the 1970s, but has dwindled to only Azusa and CLC. Most members left when the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference shifted to the NCAA Division III.
So whenever Azusa and CLC meet, voila , a championship is at stake.
There is an additional incentive for CLC to patch up and play to win. Azusa (7-0-1) is going for its first undefeated record and playoff berth. The Cougars, who tied San Francisco, 38-38, last week, are ranked fifth in the NAIA Division II.
"We figure we have to beat Cal Lutheran to make the playoffs," Azusa Coach Jim Milhon said. "We also know they would like to spoil our party."
Who is the favorite? The records give the edge to Azusa, but looking at the Cougars' schedule must cause Shoup to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Azusa has beaten many of the teams CLC regularly whipped on its way to past winning records. Of course, that was before the Kingsmen joined the Western Football Conference and had to face all the bullies.
A better gauge is San Francisco, the only opponent common to CLC and Azusa. The Kingsmen defeated the Gators, 28-24, early in the season. Azusa came back from a 38-17 deficit for its tie.
The Kingsmen have won the District III title 16 of the last 20 years and have beaten Azusa in 10 out of 12 meetings. The Cougars have defeated CLC the past two years.
Okoye is OK: Just when the Kingsmen thought it was safe to take the field against players their own size, they'll have to tackle a 6-2, 255-pound Azusa tailback named Christian Okoye.
Recruited from Nigeria four years ago for the track team, Okoye is in his second year of football. He already has established an Azusa record with 1,216 yards on 175 carries.
"We had a Nigerian on the track team named Innocent Egbunike," Milhon said. "He told us about a friend in his homeland who was a strong guy."
The friend turned out to be Okoye, and Egbunike was right. Okoye has won nine NAIA national titles in the shot, discus and hammer throws in three years. And he is fast as well, running the 40 in 4.5.
Since Valley is not the host of the Brahma Bowl and Pierce is, the Monarchs had better beat Southwest Saturday and Pierce a week later if they want an invitation.
An outright champion of the Southern California Conference would be invited, according to bowl administrator Leonard Streva. But if Valley loses to Southwest and Pierce defeats West L. A. Saturday, a Valley win over Pierce on Nov. 23 would give both teams 4-1 conference records.
Although Valley would be SCC champion because of its win over Pierce, the Brahmas would get the bowl bid, Streva says.
Valley (3-0 in the SCC and 7-1 overall) is ranked 11th and Pierce (3-0, 6-2) is ranked 15th in the state by the JC Athletic Bureau.
Moorpark, which is 5-1 in the Western State Conference and 7-2 overall, will be the at-large team in the bowl if the Raiders defeat Santa Monica on Saturday. Moorpark is ranked 16th in the state.
Dyer Straits: Southern Utah running back Bobby Dyer, formerly of Pierce, would be running away with the Western Football Conference rushing title if the Thunderbirds were an official member of the conference.
Dyer, who had 176 yards last week against the Colorado School of Mines, has rushed for 1,016 yards.
Southern Utah will join the WFC next season.