Another match-up with Banning High in the City 4-A football playoffs wouldn't be just a game for Kennedy Coach Bob Francola. It would rank as a religious experience.
"Beating Banning is a mission, a crusade, a driving force," Francola said Saturday. "Banning is the benchmark that City teams are measured against. Beating them would be great for the Valley and great for the school."
Kennedy enters the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the Valley. After a dismal start in which the team lost three of its first four games, Kennedy is unbeaten in its last five, allowing only 10 points.
The Golden Cougars (5-3-1, 3-0-1 in league) ended the regular season with impressive wins over Cleveland and San Fernando, outscoring them, 63-0, to share the Valley 4-A League title with Granada Hills. Those teams tied 7-7 and await the outcome of a coin toss today to determine which team enters the City Section playoffs as the Valley 4-A League's No. 1 team.
Kennedy needs a win in the first round to earn a rematch with Banning, which routinely annihilates Valley teams. Francola knows firsthand about Banning's domination of Valley teams. He has faced the Pilots seven times as a coach without a win. He lost six times as an assistant coach at Birmingham, Granada Hills and Kennedy, and once as Kennedy's head coach when Banning defeated the Golden Cougars in the fourth week of this season, 18-0.
Still, Francola hungers for Banning.
"Our kids like playing Banning. It's a showcase for them. It's the best team in the City against the team that wants to be the best in the City. We just want to play them as often as we can. The more you play them, the more familiar you get with them, the less their show is intimidating."
"It's great," Francola explained. "They arrive at a game with their huge team, and they have three or four buses just for the band and drill team. Teams that haven't played Banning spend the first 30 minutes watching the show. That's part of the Banning mystique."
Francola insists his team has conquered the mystique part.
"When we played them this year, their quarterback hadn't been sacked and we sacked him twice. No, we aren't intimidated. We couldn't wait to get to Gardena High to play them this year."
There is no I in Kennedy: Kennedy's defense played well against Banning earlier this year, allowing two touchdowns. Banning scored on safeties after Kennedy twice hiked the ball out of the end zone from punt formation.
Still, Kennedy could have played all weekend and probably wouldn't have scored against Banning. The Golden Cougars were pathetic on offense and they knew it. Francola, a rookie coach, acted boldly in a move that rescued the season.
"After the coaching staff watched the Banning film, we took everything we had on offense and threw it in the trash can. We didn't panic, but we knew we had to get out of the I formation," Francola said.
More than a month into the season, Francola and offensive coordinator John Haynes thoroughly revamped the offense. The team showed up at practice the Monday after the Banning game to learn that over the weekend Kennedy had been coverted from a power team to an option team.
The players offered no objections.
"We jumped at the opportunity," said Edwin Jones, a senior running back who rushed for 280 yards against Cleveland. "Nothing was going for us and we knew we were at the bottom of the pit. We weren't sure about it at first, but in practice you could see a big difference."
Francola shrugs off any thoughts that the move was a gamble, saying: "To stay with what we were doing would have been a bigger gamble."
Where did they come from?: The least likely league champion this season is Agoura, which tied Calabasas for the Frontier League title with a 19-13 victory over Santa Clara on Friday. Agoura has been outscored by its opponents, 245-176, and has won only four games on the field. But two forfeit victories and improved play the past two weeks gave Agoura a 6-4 record and 3-1 mark in league.
The key to the season came when Nordhoff was forced to forfeit its 18-13 league win over Agoura.
"You hate to share a league title because of a forfeit," Agoura Coach Frank Greminger said. "You kind of back in. The Nordhoff forfeit changed the whole complexion of the season."
Agoura also was helped by the emergence of junior running back Dave Friedl, who has rushed for four touchdowns and 209 yards on 37 carries in the past two games.