Once in awhile, there comes a football game that has everything. I’m talking a “must-see” command performance. It does not happen very often, and that is part of what makes it special.
Of course, such games usually are contrived by some bowl director using big bucks from maybe an orange juice company to lure participants into his prime-time extravaganza.
Or a Pete Rozelle gets a brainstorm and sticks Roman numerals on a so-called ultimate game.
I found one of these ultimate games Friday night, and it was not called the Juicemaster Highway 78 Bowl or North County Bowl XXVI.
It was, to hear the coaches tell it, just another Avocado League football game. It was just a routine trip down the freeway by Rancho Buena Vista High School for a little cup of punch with Oceanside. Yawn.
That was why Simcox Field, a rather modest and rustic stadium of the Bull Durham genre, would be set upon by 6,500 fans when it had table-settings for few more than 5,000. That was why media numbered maybe two dozen, rather than the normal two.
This game had it all, especially the best.
It had . . .
--No. 1. Not in the North County. Not in San Diego County. Oceanside, on the near sideline with green jerseys and white pants, was ranked No. 1 in California among medium-sized schools by Cal-Hi Sports.
--No. 2. In California. Standing on the far side, in the maroon pants and white shirts . . . Rancho Buena Vista.
--Old. Oceanside, all of 82 this fall, is one of the oldest high schools in the county.
--New. RBV, known in that neighborhood as The Ranch, is an infant of 2, the newest kid in the county.
--O.J. Not the original, of course, though his son Jason starred across town at Army-Navy. This was O.J. Hall, a running back for RBV. We’ll call him Mr. Inside, because the game also had . . .
--Mr. Outside. OK, this one is not the original either. RBV’s Scott Garcia filled this role Friday night, galloping for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns.
--Butkus. All right, already. This one was not the original either, but Oceanside’s Butkus Tuitasi was a bit of a defensive load himself. They even gave him the football, and he rumbled 54 yards for a touchdown.
--A Wunderkind. Oceanside has this 15-year-old kid named Jerry Garrett who was supposed to be a phenom of a quarterback. I just didn’t realize how many Jerry Garretts there were. I found one at tailback, one at wide receiver, one at defensive back, one kicking extra points, one punting and one helping carry teammate Lotoa Tupolo off the field. How many guys wear No. 8 for Oceanside?
--A Gambler. Oceanside Coach Roy Scaffidi should have shown up with a garter on his sleeve and a henchman to count the cards, because his game was to gamble. He started the game with his Wunderkind at tailback rather than quarterback. He introduced a bizarre outpost formation with five linemen and a back maybe 15 yards to the left of the center. And he gambled repeatedly in fourth-down situations, occasionally on fourth and from there to Vista.
Maybe, just maybe, Scaffidi was gambling because he had checked the deck.
If players are cards, Oceanside had an extremely short stack. When Oceanside came onto the field, I figured the special teams were out to loosen up. The rest of the players had to be waiting to make an entrance. As it turned out, what I saw was what I got. Oceanside had 31 players in uniform.
If I counted correctly, Rancho Buena Vista had 53 in uniform. That was perfect, 52 with a wild card, or maybe even a fifth ace.
Consequently, given a short deck, Scaffidi took his ace and tried to use it as a down card, tried to hide it. He would go for the element of surprise.
Indeed, Oceanside came right out and scored a touchdown, on Butkus’ run, before it even bothered to huddle its offensive team. Zap. Pow. Gone. All of 69 seconds had elapsed.
But moments later, RBV’s Mr. Outside, Garcia, was running 88 yards down the sideline to the Oceanside 3. Garcia took it in from there, and the score was 7-6 with only 2:12 gone.
Gasp. The lines were still 15-deep at the ticket windows, and the concession stand was still a mob scene, and already both teams had scored.
This was not at all what RBV Coach Craig Bell had in mind.
“The defense had to do the job,” he said. “I didn’t want to get into one of those 42-40 games.”
Bell had a suspicion Rancho Buena Vista would get its points, but he had this thing about being selfish. He didn’t want Oceanside to get its points. To do that, his guys had to (a) find Garrett and (b) stop Garrett.
How to do it?
“Radar?” Bell mused. “Maybe sonar.”
That’s right. Bodyguards.
RBV’s defense would have Messrs. Outside and Mr. Inside. Al Aliipule and Junior Moi would have the outside, and David Navadel would have the inside. Their job would be to sort out the green jerseys and find the one with the 8 on it . . . and hope there was only one with an 8 on it.
“That was the game plan,” Navadel said. “Our responsibility was to keep him controlled.”
Badgered was more like it. Garrett probably felt like he was in an avalanche, what with all the white jerseys on top of him. He carried 20 times for minus 25 yards, much of the negative yardage coming on 9 sacks. He wouldn’t have been surprised to get up Saturday morning and find Navadel keeping vigil in the hall outside his door.
You have undoubtedly figured by now that the new kid on the block knocked the old kid off the top of the pedestal. The long deck beat the short deck, 35-22, and took the No. 1 ranking down the road.
It wasn’t dramatic or maybe even memorable, but No. 1 just doesn’t run into No. 2 very often. Especially without the nuisance of television timeouts.