When Taft Coach Tom Stevenson arrived at Palisades High on Friday night, the strong ocean wind struck him like a cold slap in the face. But Stevenson was thankful for the wind. He needed it.
Stevenson was certain that because of the gusting wind, Palisades' potent passing attack would be snuffed in the City Section 3-A Division semifinal-round playoff game. Meanwhile, according to plan, the Toreadors would do what they have done successfully--and almost exclusively--this season: run the football. With a little help from the wind, Taft would whip Palisades and advance to its first 3-A championship game.
"I was happy when I saw the wind," Stevenson said. "I was hoping the ball would end up in the Pacific Ocean every time they threw it."
Instead, Stevenson might just as well have tossed his plan into the sea. The wind only filled the sails of Palisades quarterback Perry Klein. Klein, the City's leading passer with 3,547 yards and 34 touchdowns, completed 22 of 41 passes for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"It was amazing," Stevenson said. "Their receivers did a great job adjusting to the ball. I was happy with the wind--until I saw what they could do with it. It didn't have any effect on their passing."
Klein's third touchdown pass, a looping, 25-yard spiral to Harold Champion, gave the Dolphins a 34-27 lead with 3:40 to play.
Suddenly, it was Taft's passing attack--in absentia for most of the season--that was forced to brave the wind, starting from the Toreadors' 20.
Taft's running game, which accounted for 2,932 yards, had been the team's offensive weapon all season.
Running the ball, however, was not going to cut it. Taft, which had passed for only 336 yards entering the game, was forced to put the ball in the air.
"Actually, the wind didn't affect our passing," Stevenson said, jokingly. "It affected our catching."
Taft quarterback Richard Cosentino, who had passed for only 242 yards this season, threw into the swirling winds three times and completed two during the drive. His final pass was dropped by Darran Mathews, Taft's leading receiver this season with five catches.
"The ball was right on target until the last minute and then it just dropped," Cosentino said. "I really think it could have been different if it weren't for the wind."
Said Mathews: "It took a little bit of a drop, but it hit my hands. I still think I should have caught it."
The drive--and Taft's season--ended at the Palisades 38-yard line.
"If we had two more minutes to run the ball we may have scored," Stevenson said. "Unfortunately, we had to switch to a passing game, which isn't exactly our forte. When our top receiver has just five catches . . . I mean, we have a tough enough time catching with no wind."
Cosentino, a junior, finished with 4 completions in 9 attempts for 67 yards, extending his season total to 309 yards.
"Next year, we'll pick up a run-and-shoot offense," Stevenson said. "It helps you in big games. You score so much quicker with the passing game as evidenced Friday night."
Reseda connection: Wilkinson . . . to Edwards . . . to Wilson . . . Touchdown!
The combination has clicked like clockwork this season. Each time Reseda Coach Joel Schaeffer has called the fake double-reverse pass, the defense has been caught with its alarm turned off.
"It's one more thing in our bag of tricks," said Schaeffer, whose team drubbed Huntington Park, 33-0, on Friday night. The Regents will defend their City 2-A championship against Westchester next Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at East Los Angeles College. "I've used it for three or four years now, but you have to have good athletes to run it."
The play begins with running back Ronald Wilkinson sweeping left and handing the ball to wide receiver Sam Edwards, who circles behind the backfield.
Edwards then fakes a handoff to the Regents' other wide receiver, James Swindell, who circles from the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Edwards, a senior who played quarterback two years ago in Chicago, then straightens up and lofts a spiral to tight end David Wilson, who by this time is usually chuckling in solitude downfield.
Fake double-reverse pass.
The play has resulted in touchdowns against Grant, Venice and Huntington Park. Edwards' 28-yard toss to Wilson late in the third quarter Friday night gave Reseda a 27-0 lead.
"I'm no John Elway or anything, but I can throw it," said Edwards, a Times All-Valley defensive back.
Said Wilson: "Everybody goes for it."
In two seasons, Reseda is 5 for 5 on the play with 4 touchdowns.
Kicked by the Colts: Granada Hills quarterback Jeremy Leach was in diapers the last time the Highlanders played in a championship game. The last time Leach played against Carson, he was in pain.
But Granada Hills will get its shot at a championship--and a rematch against the Colts--when the teams meet for the City 4-A championship next Friday evening at 7:30 at East Los Angeles College.
The game also marks the first time a Valley-area team has reached the City final since 1980, when El Camino Real lost to Banning.
In Granada Hills' last meeting with Carson, Leach, who has led Granada Hills to its first title game since 1970, was sacked nine times for minus-86 yards and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Carson had the Highlanders heading for the hills with a 42-14 victory. But Leach is looking forward to the rematch.
"Everybody on the team wants a chance to try again," Leach said, adding that because Granada Hills probably will be the underdog ". . . we have nothing to lose."
Leach said that he did not start concentrating on Carson until the Highlanders battered Cleveland, 55-6, Friday night in the semifinal round. It could be that Leach will be the one getting battered next week.
"It's not that fun," said Leach, remembering his last encounter with the Carson defense. "They make contact."
Jumbled picture: The playoff picture for City Section soccer should have been decided Thursday, but several teams are making up rainouts Tuesday. If Chatsworth beats or ties Cleveland, the Chancellors will win the West Valley League title outright. If the Chancellors lose, there will be at least a two-way tie for first with Reseda, which has finished its season. If Chatsworth loses and Taft beats El Camino Real, there will be a three-way tie for first.
In the event of a three-way tie, a three-team elimination playoff will decide which teams go to the playoffs. If Chatsworth and Taft both win, then the Toreadors and Reseda will be tied for second and will play a tie-breaker to decide who is the second-seeded team in the playoffs. Taft has beaten Reseda twice in the regular season. Only two teams from each league will be selected for the playoffs.
"I like it a lot better than having to depend on someone else," Chatsworth Coach Richard Doran said. "We don't have to depend on anybody."
The other two Valley-area league titles, however, have been decided. In the Mid-Valley League, Monroe won the championship Thursday by tying Kennedy, 0-0. It is the first league crown for the Vikings since Les Sasvary initiated the program 10 years ago. San Fernando finished second. For Kennedy, this is the first season since 1979-80 that the Golden Cougars have not made the playoffs.
"It's a great feeling to finally win the title," Sasvary said. "It's always been that we've had to travel the first round and play a difficult team and now we finally have a chance to host. It's very promising."
In the East Valley League, Poly finished first and Hollywood was runner-up.
Staff writer Steven Fleischman contributed to this notebook.