The game that should have ended 1988 will begin 1989.
Morse meets Rancho Buena Vista Saturday at Vista High School, and although the game will be more post-facto than post-season, it will still offer a look at the county's top-ranked teams.
Rancho Buena Vista went 13-0 last season, cruising to the San Diego Section 2-A title in the school's second year of existence. Morse, ranked No. 2 most of the season, dropped to No. 3 after losing, 17-14, to Mira Mesa in the last game of the regular season. But the Tigers came back to defeat previously undefeated Orange Glen in the 3-A title game and finished 11-2.
Since there is no Super Bowl for section high school football, Saturday's game will have to do, and it should do just fine. Rancho Buena Vista enters the season No. 1 and Morse No. 2 in The Times' poll.
Rancho Buena Vista has won 14 consecutive games, which ties the Longhorns for sixth with Castle Park on the all-time section list. RBV has 12 returning starters including running back O.J. Hall, who gained 1,278 yards as the No. 2 running back in '88.
While the Longhorns have not been around long enough to build a tradition, Morse has. The Tigers have reached the playoffs nine of the past 15 years and made it to the title game the past two. Morse returns a solid group of players who started as juniors last season, including running back Jesse Campbell (1,044 yards).
Saturday's game may not be the last time the teams meet. Rancho Buena Vista has moved from the 2-A Avocado League to the 3-A Palomar League, which means they could play again in the playoffs.
But the race to finish No. 1 is not confined to RBV and Morse. Several teams have the quality and depth to challenge.
Lincoln, the top-ranked 2-A team, will again be tough. Point Loma, which won the 3-A title in 1987, could win the Eastern League title over Morse.
Contenders and pretenders should be separated on the field. RBV plays Morse and Point Loma. Point Loma and Morse play each other and Lincoln.
And lest any team become too confident, there is the following to take into consideration.
Before last season, Coach Dick Haines of perennial power Vista said, "We think we've got a shot, if I don't foul them up, of really challenging as the top team in the state."
The Panthers opened the season ranked No. 5, which is how many games it took them to score on its way to an 0-11 season.
The Times' 1989 San Diego Section top 10:
1 RANCHO BUENA VISTA
1988 Record: 13-0
Coach: Craig Bell
Rancho Buena Vista returns 12 starters and its kicker from last year's unbeaten team. Behind O.J. Hall will be Markeith Ross, who ran for 800 yards as the No. 3 back last season. But will RBV be as dominant playing 3-A Palomar League teams week in and week out? Bell figures to find out with his preleague schedule. "We though if we're going to move to 3-A, we might as well find out what it was all about," Bell said. "The Morse and Point Loma (Sept. 22) games will let us know. We'd like to win all the games, but if we don't, we'll learn enough to be competitive in the Palomar League."
1988 Record: 11-2
League: City Eastern
Coach: John Shacklett
Morse has the players to repeat as 3-A champions and should rely heavily on its passing attack, led by quarterback Teddy Lawrence, a senior who started last season at wide receiver and defensive back. Lawrence's speed affords Morse the option to mix in some runs with the passing game.
1988 Record: 9-2
League: City Central
Coach: Vic Player
Speed has been a hallmark of the Lincoln football program for years, and it won't change this season, when the Hornets' 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams will be on the field. A key for the Hornets will be how well junior Mike Temple adjusts to quarterback, but that is one of only a few positions where Player does not bring back a starter; the Hornets have 22 returning from the team that lost to San Pasqual in the 2-A semifinals.
4 POINT LOMA
1988 Record: 6-7
League: City Eastern
Coach: Bennie Edens
As good as Morse's passing may be, Point Loma's figures to be better. Danny White, a big drop-back passer, has two experienced receivers, Brett Callan and J.J. Stokes. Callan started last season, catching more than 50 passes. Point Loma's inexperienced tailbacks make the running game a question.
1988 Record: 8-2-1
League: Grossmont 3-A
Coach: Jim Arnaiz
Arnaiz is entering his 17th season at Helix, and the Highlanders have made the playoffs 11 times, all in the past 12 years. They have not had a losing season since 1975. Quarterback Rob Ippolito will be the key. He was supposed to start last season as a junior but contracted mono, and by the time he was ready to play, he had lost his starting job to Tory Winrow. Arnaiz and the rest of the league coaches have said Ippolito is now ready and should be the league's dominant player.
6 EL CAMINO
1988 Record: 8-3-1
Coach: Herb Meyer
El Camino and Oceanside used to dominate this league, but San Marcos and San Pasqual were the teams in 1987, and Rancho Buena Vista cast its huge shadow last season. The Wildcats and Pirates should be back on top in '89. Defense will be the strength for El Camino with six starters and three all-league players returning. But the offense, with two new running backs, will have to come around in time for league play.
1988 Record: 8-4
League: City Western
Coach: Ron Hamamoto
Hamamoto has been building a solid program behind the Delaware wing T. Last year, the Dons came within four points of one of the biggest upsets in section history when they lost, 40-36, to Rancho Buena Vista in the 2-A semifinals. USDHS will have a strong defense led by linebacker Matt Miller, but Hamamoto must find a quarterback. Jeff Desjardins will move to quarterback from defensive back, where he intercepted six passes last year.
8 CHULA VISTA
1988 Record: 8-4
Coach: George Ohnesorgen
Chula Vista began last season 0-3, then romped through league play 7-0. The Spartans had the distinction of being defeated twice by 3-A champ Morse, the second time, 27-6, in the 3-A semifinals. Quarterback Derek Chapman is back to guide the talented offense, as is linebacker Bubba Phillips for the defense.
1988 Record: 9-4
Coach: John Carroll
Oceanside will be big, but whether bigger is better will probably be decided when the Pirates meet El Camino. Sale Asaia (6-7, 270) is just the start of offensive and defensive lines that could rival as the best in the county. With ability up front, Oceanside should be an offensive power, even without quarterback Jerry Garrett, who is again academically ineligible. Carroll takes over the team after having been defensive coordinator at Anaheim Servite.
10 MT. MIGUEL
1988 Record: 7-4
League: Grossmont 3-A
Coach: Gary Cooper
Mt. Miguel was supposed to have a rebuilding year last season after winning two consecutive 3-A league titles. With 14 sophomores starting, the Matadors were 7-3 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Those sophomores are now juniors, and Mt. Miguel should challenge Helix for the championship. Cooper has three strong backs, and one will have to come forward to replace Eugene Ethridge, who was fifth in the county in rushing with 1,363 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Could break into the ranks: Crawford (7-3) is the only team in the Central League that has a hope of staying with Lincoln. Vernon Shaver (10.9 in the 100 meters) will be hard to catch at wide receiver. Grossmont (5-5, two forfeits) lost out on the playoffs because of an ineligible player. The Foothillers have enough quality returners who have something to prove about last season. Mira Mesa (8-3) could be a surprise with a strong defense and Don Elder, probably the league's fastest running back. Elder's success will depend heavily on how quickly Mira Mesa's young offensive line matures. San Dieguito (8-3) has always played hard nose defense and will be solid again. Southwest (8-4) has several key returners on a defense that ranked No. 1 in the county last season.