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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEWS: SOUTHERN SECTION : Canyon Diversifies Offense in Effort to Remain Ahead of Talent-Laden Palmdale

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Pursuing a sixth league title in seven years, Canyon Coach Harry Welch will employ an offense with more options than just tailback Chris Peery plowing up the middle.

Last season, with inexperienced skill-position players, the Cowboys’ attack was like a runaway freight train and about as difficult to stop. With Peery churning straight ahead for 1,290 yards behind a strong offensive line, Canyon ran over all five league opponents.

“We didn’t really have many receivers last year,” Welch said. “This year, we’re going to throw the ball more.”

And with good reason. Canyon, according to Welch, has the best group of receivers--and perhaps its best passing game--in his seven-year tenure. That’s a bold statement considering that the 1986 Cowboys boasted receivers Chad Zeigler and Trevor Doyle and fullback Paul Chadwell, who combined to catch 115 passes from quarterback Ken Sollom.

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Welch touts five receivers: juniors Clint Beauer and Chad Nell, and seniors Jason Stanley, Brian Schroeder and Joe Wade. Beauer, who caught 14 passes last year, and Wade are the likely starters. Stanley, a three-year varsity player who led Canyon with 22 receptions last year, and Schroeder will start in the defensive secondary. Both will be called upon to catch passes on offense, however.

The quarterback is senior Rod Baltau, a returning starter who rallied from a broken finger last year to pass for 1,095 yards and 6 touchdowns. Baltau also rushed for 153 yards and 6 touchdowns. This season, Baltau (6 feet, 2 inches, 178 pounds), MVP of the L. A. Summer Games, might be the most improved player in the Valley area.

“He went into a cocoon in the off-season and came out a butterfly,” Welch said. “We’re really happy with him.”

That’s good because after a long summer Peery, 6-1, 200 pounds last season, has ballooned to 236 pounds. “I was just eating a lot and not exercising,” he said. “But I’m only about 10 or 15 pounds over.”

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Welch and his assistants, however, are not concerned with Peery’s weight. “His feet are still good,” assistant Brian Stiman said. “And he’s going to lose some weight.”

Said Palmdale Coach John Lowry: “I don’t see anybody with personnel as good as Canyon. They’re loaded.”

But so is Palmdale, which lost to Canyon, 14-13, by the margin of a blocked extra-point in last year’s league finale. Speedsters Shannon Culver and Tony Frazier form perhaps the best receiving tandem in the league. Tailback Lashante Parker and fullbacks Anthony Florence and Don Turner also have speed. Running interference is tackle Jim Nevelle, last year’s league lineman of the year.

“We’ve got the people who can play with them,” Lowry said of Canyon.

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Antelope Valley, which finished third behind Canyon and Palmdale last year, is capable of a repeat performance of 1986, when the Antelopes ended Canyon’s 46-game winning streak en route to the league title. Antelope Valley is led by three-year starter Tommie Smith (6-1, 208), who plays linebacker and tailback.

While offenses of the top three favorites are set, Saugus Coach Dick Flaherty is juggling quarterbacks George Lopata and Jason Sachs. “We may go to the platoon system,” Flaherty said.

But Saugus, which improved from 0-10 the previous season to 4-6 last year, has some talented receivers--seniors Angel Martinez, Scott Cutchell and tight end Chad Keene. “I think Martinez is as good as anyone Canyon has,” Flaherty said.

With the apparent strength of Canyon, Palmdale and Antelope Valley, Quartz Hill (2-3 in league play last year) and Burroughs (Ridgecrest) (0-5) might be in for long seasons, particularly when league play begins.

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GOLDEN LEAGUE Predicted Finish

1. Canyon (9-1)

2. Palmdale (7-3)

3. Antelope Valley (6-4)

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4. Quartz Hill (3-7)

5. Saugus (3-7)

6. Burroughs-R (1-9)

Predicted record in parentheses.

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