Third-seeded Banning High is considered one of the favorites for the L.A. City Section 4-A Division football title.
But don’t expect an easy opener for the Pilots.
Banning (9-1) will play what is expected to be a formidable opponent, Poly of Sun Valley (8-2), in a first-round game at 7:30 Friday night at Gardena High.
Poly, last year’s 3-A Division champion, boasts the most productive offense among City schools in the San Fernando Valley. The Parrots are averaging 346.5 yards per game, 45 more yards than any other City team in the Valley.
Standouts for East Valley League runner-up Poly include running back Jermaine Pledger and quarterback Lance Garcia, second-year starters who played on the 1990 3-A championship team. Pledger has rushed for 1,314 yards and 15 touchdowns in 166 carries. Garcia, a versatile athlete, has completed 47 of 90 passes for 861 yards and seven TDs and has rushed for 324 yards and six TDs.
However, both players suffered injuries last week in Poly’s victory over Birmingham. Pledger sprained an ankle, and Garcia suffered a concussion. Both are expected to play Friday.
Banning, whose only loss was a forfeit to Dorsey, counters with a defense that has allowed an average of 10 points a game. The Pilots have not allowed more than 20 points in a game.
Defensive end Tawan Hall, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound transfer from Serra, leads Banning with 51 tackles. Other standouts include outside linebacker Jason Grayson (47 tackles, two interceptions), safety Brandon Moore (six interceptions), defensive end Jim Irby (four sacks) and cornerback Chris Smith, who led the Pilots with seven unassisted tackles and a key interception last week in a 21-20 victory over Carson.
Offensively, Banning relies on a balanced running attack led by tailback Shayzar Hawkins and fullback Larry Rayford. Hawkins has rushed for 1,139 yards and 13 touchdowns in 139 carries, and Rayford has 621 yards and eight TDs in 88 carries. Quarterback Andre Faavi-Tua’au, the team’s third-leading rusher with 255 yards and six TDs, has improved steadily and played well against Carson.
Other City playoff openers involving South Bay teams:
Carson (5-4-1) at Garfield (6-3-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday--A strained Achilles’ tendon is expected to keep wingback Theron Hill, Carson’s leading rusher and second-leading receiver, on the sidelines for this 4-A Division opener. But his absence might not hurt the Colts, who have a big advantage in size and speed over Garfield. “They outweigh us by quite a bit,” Garfield assistant John Aguirre said. “They’ll be the toughest team we’ve played by far. They’ve got the athletes.” In Hill’s absence, lightning-quick junior Damin Hurst will become Carson’s main running back. Garfield sophomore tailback Mando Figueroa has rushed for about 1,000 yards, Aguirre said.
Canoga Park (3-6) vs. San Pedro (6-4) at Daniels Field, 7:30 p.m. Friday--After holding its own in the competitive Southern Pacific Conference, San Pedro enters the 3-A playoffs with high expectations. Reasons for optimism include a balanced offense led by quarterback Rino Marconi (1,404 yards passing), three capable tailbacks--Ambrose Russo, Geronne Shepard and Jeff Williams--and a defense that has not allowed more than 28 points in a game. Canoga Park, averaging only 180 yards a game, is led by quarterback Adam Ferris (535 yards passing) and running back Roland Mitchell (621 yards, six TDs rushing).
South Bay’s Football Top 10
Selected by Times Sportswriters
Rank, School, League Record 1 Banning (Pacific) 9-1 2 Hawthorne (Bay) 8-2 3 Serra (Camino Real) 7-2 4 Morningside (Ocean) 7-2 5 Carson (Pacific) 5-4-1 6 Peninsula (Bay) 7-3 7 El Segundo (San Fernando Vly) 8-2 8 Redondo (Ocean) 6-4 9 South Torrance (Pioneer) 6-4 10 San Pedro (Southern) 6-4