El Camino Just Keeps Winning Ugly : 28-22 Victory Over Pasadena Clinches Title for Warriors

Times Staff Writer

They run plays with only 10 men on the field. Other times they look a bit disorganized. They were called "the worst undefeated team I've seen" by a visiting sportswriter earlier in the season.

At times their ragged play lives up to that remark. The running game seems to disappear on cue, and just about every scout who sees them says they can be beaten.

Lead Evaporates

Talk is cheap. The truth is, no one has quite figured out a way to beat the El Camino College football team this season.

Ask Pasadena City College, which saw a 13-0 lead evaporate Saturday afternoon in a 28-22 loss. The El Camino victory clinched the South Coast Conference title for the Warriors, their first championship in 16 years.

In many respects it was a typical El Camino win in what many say is the toughest community college alignment in the nation. At times looking ragged and confused, the Warriors bounced back again and again only to let Pasadena keep the game close by breaking a big play. The Lancers scored on the game's first play on a 62-yard option run by fullback Bruce Williams, a pass off a fake punt and a 95-yard kickoff return from tailback Anthony Wallace.

Those kind of lapses have plagued El Camino all season. But the bottom line is that the team always finds a way to win.

"We've had lots of close wins," said second-year Coach John Featherstone. "We've got those kind of kids. That's the mark of a winner."

The victory guarantees the Warriors an invitation to the Orange County Pony Bowl against the winner of the Mission Conference. It also means an outside shot at an invitation to meet the nation's No. 1 team, Taft College, in Bakersfield's Shrine Potato Bowl.

The supposedly mediocre Warriors are now 9-0 and can put the wraps on the school's first undefeated campaign in its history next week in its homecoming game against Golden West College.

El Camino is ranked second in California and fourth nationwide. But maintaining that standing the past four weeks has been difficult. The 6-point victory Saturday was the widest margin in that span. A year ago the Warriors were 3-7 and losing the close ones. This season the reverse is true.

Passing Reputation

"We dug ourselves a hole early," Featherstone said. "They had 13 points before we could blink."

For Featherstone, the title was especially sweet. The Mira Costa High School graduate played at El Camino in 1968 when the Warriors won their first conference title. In 1971, El Camino won the old Metropolitan Conference title, but since then the school has succeeded only in gaining a reputation as a one-dimensional, pass-oriented program.

Indeed, Featherstone, who received the obligatory water bucket shower from his players when the final gun sounded, has turned El Camino into a winner in two short years. But he hasn't shaken the pass-happy reputation. Saturday afternoon the Warrior ground game accounted for just 11 net yards.

But quarterback Danny Speltz responded, despite being sacked five times, and passed for a season-high 309 yards and all four touchdowns.

His favorite target was wide receiver Dwight Pickens. Pickens caught 10 passes for 230 yards and three scores.

Pickens is "one of the best (receivers) in the state," Featherstone said. When the team was down 13-0, Featherstone said, "we knew we needed a big play and we got it from Dwight. He's been that way all year."

Pickens got El Camino back in the game late in the first quarter when he slipped behind Lancer defensive back Terry Tramble at the Pasadena 30 and Speltz hit him with a pass that Pickens turned into a 69-yard touchdown.

Earlier, the touchdown run by Williams and a fake punt that turned into a 46-yard scoring pass from third-string quarterback Victor Torres to Tremelle Barnes staked Pasadena to a 13-0 lead with only 3 1/2 minutes gone in the game.

The Warriors exploded for 14 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the second quarter and never trailed again.

On a second and goal from the Pasadena four, Speltz hit Bryan Burnett in the end zone for a 14-13 lead.

On Pasadena's next possession, Williams was stripped of the ball by linebacker Ed Ulufanua at the Pasadena 33 and teammate Kaiser Noa recovered.

An unsportsmanlike penalty moved the ball to the Warrior 49, where Speltz began an eight-play drive with a 15-yard toss to Rickie Wills. The drive ended with 26 seconds remaining in the half when Speltz passed five yards to Pickens for another score.

Pickens scored his third touchdown on a six-yard pass from Speltz with 8:14 to go in the third quarter.

That set the stage for Wallace, who took the kickoff from Dominic Cefalone at the Pasadena five, burst up the middle and cut back to the Pasadena sideline. Cefalone, who on an earlier kickoff made a touchdown-saving tackle, tried to knock Wallace out of bounds at the Warrior 45. But Wallace slipped around the block and went up the sideline into the end zone.

A 29-yard field goal by Pasadena's Grant Runnerstrom with 4:09 left in the game finished the scoring.

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