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PREP WEDNESDAY: SOUTHERN SECTION FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PREVIEWS : Division VI : Numbers Might Point to Valencia, but Some Coaches Beg to Differ

Times Staff Writer

Want a prediction on the Division VI football championship?

Better consult your Ouija board, because even the coaches involved aren’t sure. They say the playoff picture is as fuzzy as it has been in many years.

The favorites? It depends on who you talk to.

Valencia, the defending champion, is the No. 1-seeded team and probably has the strongest defense. But the Tigers’ optimism might be tempered in that no team has repeated as Division VI (formerly Central Conference) champion since the division was established in 1977.

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Those ominous odds aside, Valencia (9-0-1) certainly looks as if it has the best shot at the division title. Here’s why:

-- Experience. The Tigers know their way around the playoffs--this will be their eighth consecutive trip. Valencia was a finalist in 1986 (losing to Bolsa Grande, 24-7), then won the title in ’87.

-- Defense. Valencia thrives on it. In 14 games last season, the Tigers allowed 68 points and had 6 shutouts--including their 13-0 victory over Anaheim for the conference title.

In 10 games this season, Valencia has 4 shutouts, has outscored opponents, 268-41, and has not allowed a rushing touchdown.

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-- Talent. Quarterback Tracy Garrett is rated No. 2 in the county for passing efficiency. Running back Keef Leasure and linebacker Steve Rangel are All-Central Conference returners. Guy Shepard and Randy Roskelly are two of the county’s top defensive backs.

Still, not everyone is picking Valencia to win.

“I wouldn’t pick Valencia as my No. 1,” La Habra Coach Jack Nichols said.

“When I saw them, they just didn’t have some of the talent that the others have. They tied Troy, we beat Troy. . . . They’re a good team, but from what I’ve seen, Pacifica looks the toughest. “

Pacifica (8-1-1), the second-seeded team, lost to Valencia in the semifinals last year. If Pacifica needs any motivation, that should be plenty.

The Mariners, who have made the playoffs 12 of the last 15 years, feature a tough defense, good overall team speed and quickness and running back Chris Shockley, who has rushed for 980 yards this season.

But what team does Pacifica Coach Bill Craven see as a threat? Corona del Mar.

“I think they are an awfully good football team,” Craven said. “They’re very good on defense, and offensively, they run the ball really well.”

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Third-seeded Corona del Mar (8-0-2) survived a tough Sea View League race to win the leagu e championship for the second consecutive year. Last year, the Sea Kings were eliminated in the second round by Valencia.

This year, thanks to a stunning defense, Corona del Mar has outscored opponents, 185-60, and had 4 shutouts. But the Sea King offense has had problems, playing sporadically most of the season.

“I’d say we’re right up there (as favorites) with Valencia and Anaheim,” Corona del Mar Coach Dave Holland said.

“But a dark horse would probably be Troy.”

Wild-card entry Troy (6-3-1) has one claim to fame this season--it was the only team that Valencia couldn’t beat. The Warriors tied Valencia, 7-7, in a nonleague game last month.

And although their record isn’t as good as some, the Warriors were only 14 points away from 10-0.

Another dark horse? Consider unseeded La Habra.

“They remind me a lot of Valencia,” Western Coach Jim Howell said. “I think they might have a good bit of a chance.”

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La Habra (6-3-1) features a quality running back in Mark Brown (brother of Servite star Derek), a super-scrambling quarterback in Al Razo and a top wide receiver in David Gutierrez.

Other dark horses? Every Division VI playoff coach picked a different team.

Bellflower (8-2) has a well-designed passing attack. Kennedy (7-2-1) has good size and good athletes.

Fullerton (5-4-1) has fullback Steve DePhillips (1,200 yards rushing). Anaheim (6-4) has fullback John Mountain (913 yards).

Saddleback (3-6-1) might have the division’s best team speed. Then there is Estancia (7-2-1).

The Eagles, who went 0-10 in 1986 and ’87, haven’t been to the playoffs since 1983. This season they have a wealth of new-found enthusiasm and confidence. Just ask Coach John Liebengood.

“We have a complete turnaround at this school,” Liebengood said. “The students actually attend games now. We even have rooter buses! I’ll tell you, whatever happens, it’s been a great year.”

DIVISION VI IN A BOX

Formerly known as: Central Conference.

Defending champion: Valencia.

Top teams: Valencia and Pacifica.

Dark Horse Teams: La Habra and Corona del Mar.

Best Draw: Pacifica plays Western in the first round and would face the winner of Saddleback-La Habra.

Worst Draw: Bellflower (8-2) and Sunny Hills (8-2), considered two of the toughest teams, meet in the first round.

Key Players: Running backs John Mountain (Anaheim), Keef Leasure (Valencia), Steve DePhillips (Fullerton), Brian Pizula (Sunny Hills) and Josh Wojtkiewicz (Estancia); Quarterbacks Tracy Garrett (Valencia), Jon Beuerlein (Sunny Hills), Pete Montera (Kennedy) and Al Razo (La Habra).

Noteworthy: An Orange County team has won the division title every year since 1977. Because 13 of the 16 playoff teams are from the county, chances are very good that a county team will win again.


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