It seems like every time La Jolla High’s football team has taken the field this season the players have looked around for a sign, something unusual to reassure them that they’re old coach still is with them.
In a game Oct. 19 against Kearny, the Vikings, heavy underdogs, found their fans petting and feeding a crow in the stands at Mesa College. But La Jolla knew the crow meant something and tied the Komets, 7-7, to earn a share of the City Western League championship that night.
In their playoff opener against Lincoln two weeks ago, the Vikings looked into the sky and could see only one star. The players believed the star, like the crow, signified that Gene Edwards--the former La Jolla coach who died last summer shortly after his retirement--still was with them.
With the clock running out, the team marched 87 yards in 53 seconds to score the go-ahead touchdown then sealed a 14-13 come-from-behind victory when John Zuanich made a diving interception at La Jolla’s five-yard line.
When the Vikings dedicated the 1990 season in Edwards’ memory, they expected to improve on their 3-6-1 finish in 1989. But no one thought they would be 10-1-1 and facing defending champion El Camino (8-4) in a San Diego Section 2-A playoff semifinal game at 7:30 p.m. today at Torrey Pines High.
“No one ever thought we’d be this far,” said third-year La Jolla running back Nick Alford, who couldn’t explain his team’s dramatic turnaround. “I don’t know. It just seems no one ever quits. We keep seeing little signs that Coach Edwards is still there.”
Like before a game at Clairemont, where they walked into the locker room and found No. 29 written on a chalkboard. The Vikings, who wear No. 29 on their helmets for the number of years Edwards served as head coach, crushed Clairemont, 45-2.
Alford, a senior, has carred for 1,253 yards on 217 carries and scored 14 touchdowns this season, sharing the spotlight with junior E.J. Watson (87-845, 17 touchdowns). Last week, Alford had a 30-carry, 153-yard, two-touchdown performance in La Jolla’s second-round 34-7 victory over West Hills.
The Vikings have looked bad at times. First-year Coach Dick Huddleston said they tended to play to the level of their competition, which has not always been strong. But La Jolla is looking more and more like a team of destiny.
In a crucial City Western League game late in the season, the Vikings pulled out a 24-23 victory over USDHS with 10 seconds left, despite being outgained 346-152. Eric Zadeyan, who has had trouble at times kicking extra points, booted a 42-yard field goal to win it. Zadeyan’s improbable kick came after quarterback Brian Hidalgo was intercepted on fourth down, but USDHS was flagged for roughing the passer.
“There was certainly a little bit of luck,” said Huddleston, whose team is plus 20 in the turnover department. “It seems like every time we get an opportunity, we capitalize on it.”
Tonight the Vikings face El Camino, which overcame an 0-3 start and has won seven of its last eight games, including playoff victories over University City (36-10) and Escondido (17-16).
The Wildcats appear to have an edge in experience, but La Jolla seems propelled by a mystical force--maybe a 12th man.
“Yeah, exactly,” Alford said. “We all have a minute of silence before each game to dedicate it to (Edwards). Everybody thinks about it.”