You’d think the loaded 38-special those Cowboys from Canyon High carry would be getting heavy on the hip. They are asked about it everywhere they go.
Canyon hasn’t lost a football game since Sept. 30, 1983. The Cowboys won their last 10 games that season and posted 14-0 records each of the past two years.
Yet the players, even the ones who have played a major role in the streak, check their holsters at the locker room door. What streak?
“Our record is 0-0, not 38-0,” says quarterback Ken Sollom, who is beginning his third varsity season.
“We don’t talk about the streak at all,” says wide receiver Chad Zeigler, another third-year varsity player.
They gladly talk about the brand of Cowboy football that has led to the victories, however.
“Cowboys don’t accept anything less than a maximum effort,” Sollom says. “It’s something special. You’ve got to have a big heart.”
“Cowboy football is working hard all day long,” says running back Lance Cross, who has gained 2,440 yards rushing in two seasons.
The architect of Cowboy football--and the streak--is Coach Harry Welch, who has a four-year record at Canyon of 49-5. His outward ambivalence for the streak is purposeful. Welch doesn’t want the 38-special blowing up in his players’ faces, who believe him when he says, “The measure of success is not the scoreboard. If you put out your best effort, you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
All the talk of Cowboy football, is clearly corny, but the Cowboys crack corn and they don’t care what anyone else thinks.
“Sometimes it’s OK to be corny,” Welch says. “What these young men are doing every day crackles with life and energy. Cowboy football is a way to live.”
And the streak is something Cowboys have to live with. Whether they like it or not. Here are a few reasons why:
It is the third-longest current win streak in the United States and the longest in the state. (East St. Louis, Ill., has won 40 and River Ridge of John Curtis, La., has won 39.)
It is the sixth longest ever in the state. (Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa won 47 straight from 1972 to 1977.)
It is the second longest in Southern Section history. (Temple City won 46 straight from 1970 to 1974.) Another eight straight and the Cowboys will be in the record book.
But those could be a crazy eight. Severe tests await Canyon this fall.
First, of course, is Hart, the No. 1 ranked team in the Northwestern Conference and Canyon’s Santa Clarita Valley rival. Canyon faces Hart at College of the Canyons on Friday night.
The Cowboys edged the Indians last year by six inches, the distance Hart quarterback Jim Bonds was held from the goal line on a fourth-down play in the game’s final seconds. Canyon won, 6-3, which wasn’t as close as the Cowboys’ 22-21 win over Hart in 1983, but was closer than their 21-6 win in 1984.
Two weeks later, the Cowboys face Thousand Oaks, which is ranked third in the Coastal Conference. Canyon is ranked No. 2 in the conference behind Muir, the defending champion. Canyon and the rest of the Golden League moved up to the Coastal Conference this season.
If Canyon wins its first eight, the game for a piece of the state record will be on the home field of league rival Antelope Valley, which has its strongest team since 1981, when the Antelopes won the Northwestern Conference title. Antelope Valley grudgingly succumbed to Canyon, 9-7, in the conference title game last season. It was Canyon’s third straight conference championship.
“That was our least satisfying win,” Welch said. “We try to set our own standards rather than let opponents set standards for us. We didn’t play Cowboy football that night.”
There they go again, soft-pedaling a hard-earned victory in favor of an ethic. Idealism aside, what kind of football is Cowboy football?
What kind of offense has scored 1,154 points in the past 38 games?
“We’re almost always in the I-formation,” Welch says. “We don’t use motion. I don’t even hand out a playbook. I have a good friend who used to coach in the league. He tells me, ‘You are so simple.’ I like that an awful lot.”
OK, so the offense is as easy to read as a pulp Western novel. How about a defense that has allowed just 292 points and accounted for nine shutouts over the same span?
“It’s a cross between a 5-2 and a 4-4,” Welch says. “We sit in it. It’s something I came up with over the years. People say, ‘You can’t do that.’ It’s basic, simple and tremendous. But it’s too boring for some people.”
If the Xs and O’s are ordinary, the players must be physically imposing specimens, right?
“We’re mostly little guys doing the little things right,” counters Cross, who is 5-6 and weighs 160. Paul Chadwell, his running mate, is 5-6, 150. Only one Canyon lineman weighs more than 200 pounds.
Palmdale Coach Bill Norton has a theory about Canyon. His teams have been beaten by the Cowboys three times during the streak--in the 1983 conference title game when he coached at Bishop Montgomery and the past two years while at his present post.
“What they have at Canyon are a lot of good high school football players,” Norton says. “They rarely have a major college prospect. But I have never seen players who, pound for pound, hit harder. They are the Cowboys for a reason. You couldn’t call them the Cream Puffs.”
Canyon alums Brent Parkinson (6-6, 230), now at USC, and Randy Austin (6-3, 215), now at UCLA, are the exceptions. The Lance Crosses and Paul Chadwells are the rule.
Small guys using a simple system listen to their coach and never lose. It would never fly as a movie. Although most of the 38 wins have been one-sided yawners, there has been drama in the streak. Let’s take a peek.
The last loss was a 7-0 decision to Notre Dame in a rainstorm at Canyon.
“The loss was Harry Welch’s fault,” Harry Welch says. “Carl Chadwell, our tailback was hurt, so I moved Randy Austin from tight end to fullback. It was a real bad move. Randy fumbled a couple times and dropped a pass in the end zone.”
Then a sophomore, Austin eventually became an All-Southern Section linebacker and perhaps the greatest player Welch has coached at Canyon.
Enough about losing. Canyon won every regular season game after the loss by at least eight points and blasted Blair, 41-20, in the first round of the 1983 Southern Section playoffs. Then came a couple of nail biters.
Canyon trailed its second round opponent, Mary Star, 7-6, with 2:40 left in the game, but drove 80 yards for a touchdown to win, 14-7.
“I honestly thought we were going to lose,” recalls Carl Chadwell. “When we got the ball the last time behind, 7-6, their crowd was chanting ‘We’re No. 1,’ and we weren’t even close to the end zone. I thought we were going down.”
Halfback Frank Gardner scored the deciding touchdown on a four-yard trap. Quarterback Rick Burton connected with wide receiver Robert Owens on passes of 28 and 18 yards during the drive.
A 27-25 win the following week over Monrovia, the top-ranked team in the conference and holder of a 26-game win streak, was even more exciting.
“It was an all-time classic,” recalls Rudy Grimaldo, who played center for Canyon in 1983 and 1984. “They were a lot faster than us but we outsmarted them. We knew when they were going to run or pass because their linemen lined up on the balls of their feet on runs and on their heels on passes. Coach Welch had picked it up on films. Everyone on our sidelines was yelling ‘Pass, pass, pass,’ or ‘Run, run, run,’ before they snapped the ball.”
Canyon passed and ran its way to a relatively easy win over Bishop Montgomery, 40-24, the following week for the conference championship.
No team scored more than 14 points in a game against Canyon the next two years. A 19-14 win over Thousand Oaks in the third week of the 1984 season was the only close regular season game. “Thousand Oaks hit harder than any team I played against,” Grimaldo recalls.
The opening round of the playoffs against St. Joseph’s, a team with a 5-5 record, at Canyon provided the only real scare of the 1984 season.
“Once again the rain came right before the game,” Welch recalls. “It was deja vu. The loss to Notre Dame was on everyone’s mind. We sputtered and sputtered.”
St. Joseph’s led, 7-2, with three minutes left in the game and had the ball at about midfield. St. Joseph’s was forced to punt with 1:45 remaining and Austin made perhaps his greatest play as a Cowboy.
“Randy beat three blockers to the punter and the guy didn’t even attempt a punt,” Welch recalls.
Welch then inserted Sollom at quarterback for John Watkins, who eventually finished high school undefeated as a starter. “It was wet and Sollom has bigger hands,” Welch says.
On fourth and 12 at St. Joseph’s 32-yard line with 1:10 left, Sollom hit Zeigler down the sideline for a 25-yard gain. On the next play, Sollom connected with David Sipes up the middle for a touchdown to give Canyon an 8-7 win. The Cowboys--with Watkins back at quarterback--outscored their last three playoff opponents that year, 79-21.
Last season, there was the Hart-stopper, a difficult win over pesky Notre Dame, 21-14, and the two-point decision over Antelope Valley in the conference final. Every other game was a blowout.
It should be great to say your school has won 38 straight. But players about to begin their first varsity season actually sneer at the streak. Cowboy football doesn’t include cluttering up the mind with a bunch of numbers, however remarkable they may be.
“It’s not our winning streak,” says Justin Fix, a sophomore defensive lineman who is expected to start. “Then was then and now is now. I’m not worried about it. A lot of people feel the same way.”
Former Canyon players admit to wanting the streak extended, however. Old Cowboys never die as long as the streak lives. “The people who first started it probably care the most,” Canyon assistant coach Brian Stiman says. “They show a lot of pride and interest.”
Says Grimaldo: “I go to UCSB, and I check the newspapers to see if Canyon wins. But they can’t keep winning forever. I know that.”
The streak is important to former tailback Carl Chadwell, whose brother, Paul, is a starting running back for the second straight season. As long as it persists, he feels connected to the team.
“I get a weird feeling watching them,” Carl says. “It’s like I’m still playing. You don’t know how to react if they lost. Some of the ex-players hang out at our house and we talk about it.
“The streak is an important thing. A lot is riding on it.”
People in far away places are impressed as well. Perhaps the streak is more awesome from a distance.
Says Zeigler: “Ken Sollom and I went on vacation in Bishop this summer and when I wore a Canyon Cowboy T-shirt people would stop me and say, ‘You’re the team that’s won 38 straight.’ ”
When pressed, Welch admits to feeling a certain pride. “Basically, it’s incredible. We’ve beaten teams from an area larger than many states. It would be different if the winning streak was made by playing neighborhood wimps. Twelve of the 38 are playoff games.
“When it’s over with, there will be a lot more to be said.”
Until then, the Cowboys will continue to speak softly and carry a big streak.
CANYON’S WINNING STREAK: 1983-1985
DATE OPPONENT SITE SCORE Oct. 7, 1983 Dominguez Canyon 34-0 Oct. 14 Antelope Valley Canyon 14-6 Oct. 21 Palmdale Palmdale 21-7 Oct. 28 Saugus College of the Canyons 52-13 Nov. 4 Burroughs (R) Canyon 33-20 Nov. 11 Quartz Hill Quartz Hill 40-21 Nov. 18 Blair Canyon 41-20 Nov. 25 Mary Star Harbor College 14-7 Dec. 2 Monrovia Monrovia 27-25 Dec. 10 Bishop Montgomery College of the Canyons 40-24 Sept. 7, 1984 Hart College of the Canyons 21-6 Sept. 14 St. Genevieve Canyon 46-7 Sept. 21 Thousand Oaks Canyon 19-14 Sept. 28 Notre Dame Notre Dame 20-7 Oct. 5 Crespi Canyon 46-0 Oct. 12 Palmdale Canyon 47-3 Oct. 19 Saugus College of the Canyons 35-6 Oct. 26 Burroughs (R) Burroughs 21-0 Nov. 2 Quartz Hill Canyon 28-6 Nov. 9 Antelope Valley Antelope Valley 26-14 Nov. 16 St. Joseph Canyon 8-7 Nov. 23 St. Bernard St. Bernard 19-9 Nov. 30 Atascadero Canyon 27-6 Dec. 7 Santa Maria College of the Canyons 33-6 Sept. 13, 1985 Hart College of the Canyons 6-3 Sept. 20 La Canada Canyon 35-9 Sept. 27 Thousand Oaks Thousand Oaks 21-0 Oct. 4 Notre Dame Canyon 21-14 Oct. 11 Crespi Birmingham 35-0 Oct. 18 Palmdale Palmdale 14-0 Oct. 25 Saugus College of the Canyons 42-0 Nov. 1 Burroughs (R) College of the Canyons 62-6 Nov. 8 Quartz Hill Quartz Hill 33-0 Nov. 15 Antelope Valley Canyon 30-6 Nov. 22 Serra Canyon 53-0 Nov. 29 Santa Maria Santa Maria 35-7 Dec. 6 Lompoc Lompoc 30-6 Dec. 13 Antelope Valley Canyon 9-7