The scene was set for the City Section's annual football powers, Carson and Wilmington Banning, to play their regular-season showdown Thursday night at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach before a national television audience on cable's SportsChannel America.
At stake would be the Pacific League title, the City's top ranking and neighborhood bragging rights.
But the scene changed last Friday night when Banning lost to league rival Crenshaw, 20-18, the Cougars scoring the game's final 20 points.
With the victory, Crenshaw moved into a second-place tie with Banning at 4-1, leaving Carson alone in first place with a 5-0 record. The Carson-Banning game lost a little of its luster, although it still figures to be a big one.
Banning Coach Joe Dominguez said that the Pilots' lack of emotional play finally caught up with them.
"We had been playing poorly and still winning," Dominguez said about the Pilots, who dropped to 6-1-1 overall. "Against Crenshaw, we played like we had all year, without any emotion because we were not mentally ready to play."
Banning got off to a fast start against Crenshaw and led early in the third quarter, 18-0. The game changed when Crenshaw recovered a fumbled punt, setting up the Cougars' first score.
"Our special teams played a major role in our comeback," said Robert Garrett, who with Terrell Ray coaches Crenshaw. "I just kept telling the kids to keep trying and they responded well. That fumbled punt brought us alive."
Crenshaw completed its second-half rally late in the fourth quarter when standout running back Kevin Hicks, returned a punt 84 yards for the winning touchdown.
Hicks, who is the City's top rusher with 1,385 yards and a top candidate for City 4-A player of the year, was held to fewer than 100 yards for the game by the Pilots' defense, but his punt return was the deciding factor.
"Kevin is our superback," Garrett said. "He is not a running back, nor is he a halfback or a tailback. He just got fired up in the fourth quarter for us . . . and that made the difference."
Crenshaw has a chance to become the first team other than Carson or Banning to win a title in the league in which the Colts and Pilots play since Gardena won the Marine League championship in 1974.
"Hopefully, this win will give us the respect we deserve," Garrett said. "We now have to have a good showing against Dorsey this Thursday, or people will just say that our win was just a fluke."
Carson, the defending City 4-A Division champion, rolled along last Friday night, defeating Dorsey, 28-9.
The Colts (6-1) won thanks primarily to a record-breaking performance by senior receiver Michael Ross, who set or tied five school records.
Against Dorsey, Ross caught eight passes for a school-record 205 yards. He also caught two touchdown passes, giving him 10 this season and 17 for his career. He also broke school records in receptions for a career with his 65, and yardage, with his 1,266 yards.
"Ross is just a phenomenal wide receiver," Carson Coach Gene Vollnogle said. "He rates right up there with all of the great receivers at Carson. He probably has the greatest vertical leap of any of them."
Another key player for Carson was quarterback Armin Youngblood, who passed for 298 yards and three touchdowns. Youngblood is also closing in on several school single-season records, having completed 78 of 159 passes for 1,529 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Despite the Colts' aerial success, Vollnogle is not completely pleased with the offense. Carson has had to pass more often this season because of its inability to run the football. After seven weeks, Carson does not have a runner with 300 yards rushing.
"We have difficulties running the ball because our offensive line has had problems moving opposing defensive lines," Vollnogle said. "This has caused us to throw more than ever."
Carson should receive an added boost to its passing attack for the Banning game with the return of Tydus Wynans, who has been out with an injured Achilles' tendon. Wynans, who may be the Colts' fastest player, has 12 catches for 326 yards this season.
More Carson vs. Banning: The Pilots may be underdogs going into their game against Carson, but perhaps their City title hopes look good.
Since 1981, six times the school that lost the regular-season matchup went on to win the City 4-A Division title.
Al Washington, a standout two-time All-City selection for Carson in 1981-82, points out the importance of winning a City title over a league title.
"When you win the league title all you get is a T-shirt," Washington said. "But, when you win the City, everyone receives a jacket, and at this time of the year it gets cold."
In his varsity career against Banning, Washington's Colts were 1-4. However, he was selected City player of the year his senior season after Carson defeated Crenshaw for the City title, 34-27.
"We lost to Banning during the regular season and we wanted to play them in the finals but they did not make it," Washington said. "It was great to win the title but it would have been great to have defeated Banning in the finals."
The East Los Angeles Classic between Garfield and Roosevelt lived up to its billing before a capacity crowd of 25,000 at East Los Angeles College.
Garfield came away victorious, 28-27, when Roosevelt failed on a two-point conversion run on the game's last play. The Roughriders scored on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Javier Lopez to Robert Cervantes with no time left.
The game featured comebacks by both teams, Garfield rallying from a 13-7 halftime deficit to take a fourth-quarter lead, 28-21, and setting up the dramatic finish.
There were many stars for Garfield, with running back Hilario Espinosa gaining 65 yards to total 1,052 for the season. Espinosa received support from Oscar Gonzales, who had two punt returns for 70 yards, and George Roblas, who caught two key passes from quarterback Alfred Perez on Garfield's last scoring drive.
"I have said all along that in a game like this, anything can happen," said Garfield Coach Steve Robinson, whose Bulldogs will play Thursday night at Huntington Park for the Eastern League title. "It was a great game all around between two great schools."
TIMES' TOP TEAMS
No. School, League Record 1. Fontana, Citrus Belt 9-0-0 2. Long Beach Poly, Moore 7-1-0 3. El Toro, South Coast 9-0-0 4. Lompoc, Northern 9-0-0 5. Loyola, Del Rey 8-1-0 6. Serra, Camino Real 9-0-0 7. Capistrano Valley, South Coast 9-0-0 8. Palos Verdes, Bay 8-1-0 9. Thousand Oaks, Marmonte 8-0-1 10. Arcadia, Pacific 8-1-0 11. Hawthorne, Bay 8-1-0 12. Paramount, San Gabriel Valley 8-1-0 13. Los Alamitos, Empire 8-1-0 14. Montclair Prep, Alpha 9-0-0 15. Los Altos, Sierra 8-1-0
No. School, League Record 1. Carson, Pacific 6-1-0 2. Granada Hills, North Valley 8-0-0 3. South Gate, Central 8-0-0 4. Banning, Pacific 6-1-1 5. Franklin, Northeast 7-1-0 6. Westchester, Metro 7-1-0 7. San Fernando, North Valley 5-3-0 8. Crenshaw, Pacific 6-2-0 9. Venice, Western 8-0-0 10. Garfield, Eastern 6-1-0