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PREP WEDNESDAY: SOUTHERN SECTION FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PREVIEWS : Division I : Loyola Has the Numbers, but Don’t Count Everyone Else Out

Times Staff Writer

Loyola High School has the No. 1 football team in the nation--according to USA Today--but this is why the top-seeded Cubs won’t win the Southern Section’s Division I championship:

-- Loyola’s offense has all the dimensions of cement. Quarterback Matt Smith started 5 games this season, and threw for an average of 78 yards per game. Smith has thrown only two touchdown passes.

-- Division I, formerly the Big Five Conference, has a history of treating No. 1-seeded teams as if they were bad credit risks. When Fontana won the Big Five championship last season, with a 21-0 victory over Fountain Valley, it became the first No. 1-seeded team to win the title since Edision in 1980.

Now, this is why Loyola will breeze to the title:

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-- Who needs a comeback? Loyola has allowed 5.2 points a game. So after an opponent kicks a field goal and gets a safety, it’s pretty much done for the evening.

-- Who’s afraid of Division I? Loyola doesn’t face a team with a winning record in the first two rounds. It plays Westminster (4-6) in the first round--and if it advances--the winner of the Jordan (4-4-1)-Mater Dei (5-5) game in the quarterfinals.

Loyola’s split personality is symptomatic of a division teeming with good teams--8 of the 16 have 8 victories or more--but none have proved themselves great teams. Not yet.

Of course, a decisive march through the playoffs has a way of changing any team’s image.

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Here are the teams with the best chances to win.

Loyola (10-0):

The Cubs’ defense is one of the best ever assembled. It’s giving up 67 yards rushing and 69 yards passing per game. It also has one of the nation’s best prep kickers in Paul Stonehouse and a solid running back in Johann Fuller (1,008 yards).

But Loyola has played only one true passing team this season. That was in the season opener against St. Paul and Loyola squeaked by, 13-7.

The thinking is that if Loyola plays a pass-happy team such as Mater Dei in the quarterfinals, and Mater Dei happens to hit a couple of touchdown passes, Loyola’s rather plodding offense might have a hard time coming back.

Of course, a team has to score on Loyola first to make the Cubs rally.

Fountain Valley (8-2):

The Barons sort of lucked into its No. 2 seeding when defending-champion Fontana (9-1) lost its league championship game to Rubidoux, 37-0, and Long Beach Poly (8-0-1) tied for a Moore League co-championship with Jordan.

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Fountain Valley has the division’s most-sophisticated offense, one that carried it to a surprise spot in last season’s final against Fontana,-- which Fontana won, 21-0. It has an experienced and exceptional quarterback in David Henigan, who has thrown for 2,302 yards (tops in Orange County) and 17 touchdowns.

But the defense has held only two opponents to fewer than 10 points. The team was lightly regarded entering last season’s playoffs, and therefore was able to sneak up on opponents. That won’t happen this year.

Servite (8-2):

The Friars probably have the division’s best running back in Derek Brown, who rushed for 1,711 yards and scored 23 touchdowns this season. Brown can dominate a game, but the Friars’ offense depends so much on him that the passing game is all but ignored. Quarterback Chris Johnson threw exactly one pass against Mater Dei last week. Of course, Brown rushed for 246 yards and scored 5 touchdowns--including a 96-yard kickoff return--to lead Servite to a 42-24 victory.

The defense has some outstanding players--Darren Galloway on the line, Garrett Greedy at linebacker and Oscar Ford in the secondary--but it lacks depth. It gave up an average of 20 points per game in Angelus League play.

Edison (9-1) and Fontana (9-1):

The Edison-Fontana game is the best match of the first round.

Fontana doesn’t have the dominant back it had last season in Derrick Malone, but it has four running backs who have rushed for 300 yards or more. The defense, as usual, is tough.

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Edison has lost only to rival Fountain Valley. It has a big-play offense (26 points per game) and a defense that has allowed only Fountain Valley to score in the 20s.

DIVISION I IN A BOX

Formerly known as: Big Five Conference.

Defending champion: Fontana.

Top teams: Loyola, Servite and Fountain Valley.

Dark Horse Teams: Mater Dei and St. Paul.

Best Draw: Loyola plays Westminster (4-6) in the the first round and would play Jordan (4-4-1) or Mater Dei (5-5) in the quarterfinals.

Worst Draw: Edison and Fontana are both 9-1 but will play each other in the first round. The winner probably will face Angelus League co-champion Bishop Amat (8-2) in the quarterfinals.

Key Players: Running backs Derek Brown (Servite), Johnny Robinson (Jordan) and Johann Fuller (Loyola); quarterbacks David Henigan (Fountain Valley), Greg Willig (St. Paul) and Michael Carter (Long Beach Poly); defensive tackle Matt Butkus (Loyola).

Noteworthy: This division does not act kindly toward favorites. The first- and second-seeded teams have never met in the final. When Fontana won the championship last season, it became the first top-seeded team to win since Edison in 1980.


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