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Orange County Prep Review : Toughness of Playoff Opponents Angers Sunset League Coaches

Football coaches in the Sunset League were upset Sunday after the Big Five Conference playoff pairings were announced in the Southern Section office at Cerritos.

Westminster and Edison high schools, which advanced to the conference’s semifinals last season, drew tough opponents in the first round of the 16-team tournament.

Westminster, the third-place team in the Sunset League, was matched against top-seeded Bishop Amat, the second-ranked team in the state, according to Cal-Hi Sports.

Edison, the second-place team in the league, travels to Crespi. Crespi’s only loss was to second-seeded St. John Bosco.

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Marina, which won its first undisputed league title in its 23-year history, also drew a tough assignment in the first round. The Vikings will play host to Loyola of the Del Rey League, meaning the three Sunset League teams will face opponents with a combined record of 27-3.

“We think the league got shafted, especially Edison,” said Jack Bowman, Westminster co-coach. “The playoff committee obviously didn’t think our league was very good.”

Westminster was the surprise team of the playoffs last year, upsetting top-ranked Riverside Poly in the first round. Poly had been ranked No. 1 in the state and had a 23-game winning streak.

The Lions advanced to the semifinals before losing to Edison, 7-6. Edison ultimately tied Long Beach for the conference title in Anaheim Stadium.

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“It’s a weak Sunset League, just like it was last year,” said Jim O’Hara, the Lions’ other coach. “We beat the No. 1 team last year, now we have to play another No. 1 team. Why didn’t they give Bishop Amat the wild-card team like they did in some of the other conferences?”

Edison Coach Dave White said he had assistants scouting potential first-round opponents the past couple of weeks. He figured his team would draw St. Paul in what would potentially be a big drawing game.

“There was no way I ever thought we’d draw the best second-place team (Crespi) in the conference, but we did,” White said. “Crespi was the only team we didn’t scout.”

Marina won five consecutive games to win the league after losing its opening five games. But all five the Vikings’ nonleague opponents qualified for the playoffs and combined for a 35-14-1 record.

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“Some people might think we’re the weakest league champion in the conference, but look at the teams we’ve played,” said first-year Coach Chris Ramsey. “I guess you eventually have to play the good teams, so you might as well play them early.”

There were no surprises in the Southern Conference. El Toro, as expected, was seeded first with Loara second, Santa Ana third and Los Alamitos fourth.

El Toro Coach Bob Johnson, who has personally scouted all of the conference’s entries except for the three teams from the Ocean League, expected to draw Canyon.

“The way the playoffs are set up, you can almost figure out who you’re going to play every year,” Johnson said. Of course, Johnson has had some practice. El Toro has qualified for the playoffs annually since 1978.

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Los Alamitos drew the toughest first-round opponent. The Griffins host Foothill in Hanford Rants Stadium at Cerritos on Friday night. Santa Ana will play a Dominguez team that qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

Another interesting matchup will be Capistrano Valley (7-3) against Lynwood (6-3-1). Lynwood is coming off a loss to Paramount, the Knights’ first loss in the San Gabriel Valley League since 1980. Lynwood had gone 34-0-1 in the league before losing to Paramount.

Mission Viejo, which will meet Beverly Hills in the first round, has been without tailback Darrin Sweazy for the past two weeks. Sweazy suffered a partially torn ligament in his right foot and was supposed to miss only one game.

“It’s a day-to-day thing,” said Mission Viejo Coach Bill Crow. “We thought he could play against El Toro, but he couldn’t push off his heel. The doctor said he would be out a week, but he’s still not ready to play.”

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Two upsets in the Sea View League in consecutive weeks forced playoff committee members to juggle the seedings in the Central Conference.

First, defending conference champion and top-ranked Saddleback was upset by Tustin, 9-7. Tustin replaced Saddleback as the conference’s No. 1 team. But then the Tillers were upset by University, 13-10, to fall from the top spot.

Now, Valencia enters the playoffs as the top-seeded team, followed by Tustin, surprising La Habra and Saddleback. Saddleback Coach Jerry Witte said injured quarterback Sean Therien has a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday to check the progress of his broken collarbone.

“Sean could be back for the second round,” Witte said. “Hopefully, we’ll have Neil Carter back this week.”

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Carter, who replaced Therien two weeks ago, suffered a deep thigh bruise against University and hasn’t practiced since the injury. The Roadrunners’ third-string quarterback, Hector Santa Cruz, is a good athlete but an ineffective passer.

Fullerton, which won the conference title in 1984, has also been hit hard by injuries. The Indians’ top three running backs--Ray Harrell, Darrell Corbin and Rich Burrell--are all out for the season.

Harrell suffered a knee injury two weeks ago against Troy. Corbin is out with an ankle injury and Burrell suffered cracked ribs last Friday against Sunny Hills.

Orange Coach Mark McMahon’s decision to move split end Kerry Reed to tailback last week paid big dividends in the Panthers’ 38-22 win over Costa Mesa that gave them their first playoff berth since 1972.

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Orange will host Norte Vista on Friday night in Fred Kelly Stadium in the opening round of the Desert-Mountain Conference playoffs. Reed gained 194 yards and scored 3 touchdowns for the Pacific Coast League champions.

“Reed had given us some big plays with six touchdowns, so I decided to give him a shot,” McMahon said. “He’s only 135 pounds and didn’t play football last year. But he’s also playing cornerback, returning punts and making the big plays.”

Both Orange and Laguna Beach were pitted against teams from the Sunkist League, which has four teams represented in the 16-team tournament. Bloomington Christian is the top-seeded team in the conference.

Prep Notes

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Loara, the county’s best defensive team, shut out six opponents and held eight teams to six points or less. Saxon Coach Herb Hill said he would nominate nose guard Dan Rovira as the Empire League’s player of the year. . . . Southern Conference entrant Beverly Hills features running back Willie Crawford, Jr., son of the former Dodger outfielder, and sophomore linebacker Roy Campanella III, grandson of the Hall of Fame catcher. . . . Among Central Conference favorite Saddleback’s nine wins are a 48-7 victory over Capistrano Valley and a 25-6 win over Santa Ana, two strong entries in the Southern Conference. . . . Attention El Modena Coach Bill Backstrom: A wild-card entry for the playoffs must have a better than .500 record, meaning the Vanguards and their 5-5 record were never considered by the playoff committee. . . . Laguna Beach Coach Lloyd Cotton said running back Jonathan Todd (knee injury) is doubtful for the Artists’ playoff game on Friday, but safety Chris Dickerson (knee injury) will return to the lineup. . . . Saddleback Coach Jerry Witte, whose team plays Norwalk on Saturday night at Santa Ana Stadium, decided not to play at Newport’s Davidson Field because Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials charge $1,300 to rent the facility. . . . Edison Coach Dave White said sophomore quarterback Greg Angelovic would play some against Crespi, but would not start. . . . Marina tailback Sean Magula, who suffered an ankle injury against Fountain Valley, will play this week, according to Marina Coach Chris Ramsey. . . . Southern Section officials have signed an agreement with Prime Ticket Network to televise the Big Five championship game on Friday, Dec. 12 from Anaheim Stadium. The cable outlet will also carry the Section’s 5-A division basketball championship game on March 7. Each of the competing schools will be paid $250 by the network.


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