Keep It Quiet, but Esperanza Is on a Tear : Prep football: Coach doesn’t want to hear anything about team’s 26-game winning streak.
Gary Meek is well aware that his Anaheim Esperanza High football team is on a 26-game winning streak, but he prefers to keep it a secret.
When the veteran coach takes the field, no players are allowed to talk about the streak. Assistant coaches are mum on the subject. Even cheerleaders are not allowed to put up signs referring to it at games.
“The streak is not important to us,” Meek said. “It’s nice, but certainly not what we’re shooting for each week.”
Since losing a first-round playoff game to Villa Park in the 1989 playoffs, the Aztecs have been on a roll. They opened the ’90 season with a 20-7 victory over Santa Ana, and have been winning ever since.
Their streak is the longest in the Southland and second-best in the state. Concord De La Salle has won 34 in a row.
In the last two seasons, Esperanza’s average margin of victory is three touchdowns. The 26-0 record includes a Southern Section Division III championship and seven shutouts. The most lopsided was a 47-0 thumping of Alhambra in the first round of the playoffs last season.
The streak could reach 27 tonight when Esperanza (12-0) takes on Montebello Schurr (10-2) in a Division III semifinal at Montebello High. Kickoff is at 7:30.
The Aztecs’ winning streak is second-longest in Orange County history. Huntington Beach Edison won 32 in a row from 1979-81. The Southern Section record is 46, shared by Temple City and Canyon Country Canyon.
Breaking those records, though, is the furthest thing from Meek’s mind.
“In my wildest dreams I never entered either season believing we’d go undefeated,” said Meek, who has been at the school for 16 years, the last six as head coach. “I knew last year that we had a talented team, but you never think about winning all your games.
“To think we could have repeated it this season seemed even farther-fetched,” he said. “With all the talent in Southern California, it’s not really a realistic goal.”
And there have been some close calls.
Closest was a 38-35 victory over Newhall Hart in the semifinals last year. Tight end Reid Pullen scored the winning touchdown on a seven-yard pass from Keith McDonald with three seconds remaining.
Meek was missing three offensive linemen because of injuries against Los Alamitos earlier this season. The Aztecs won anyway, 28-7.
Coaches and players claim to have no secrets when they explain the streak.
The team has a winning tradition. It won the Central Conference title in 1979 and played for section championships in ’80, ’82 and ’84. It won 19 games in a row from 1979-80.
And although it is not one of the county’s higher-profile schools, Esperanza has turned out 22 Division I college players in the last 16 years. Defensive end Matt Werner and offensive guard Mike Linn played at UCLA this season. Keith Navidi is a defensive tackle at Washington, and offensive guard Brenden Stai is at Nebraska.
Meek acknowledges that he has been blessed with talented linemen over the years, but usually lacked speed at the skill positions. Navidi and Stai both played on the 1989 team that lost to Villa Park in the playoffs. Esperanza finished 6-5 that season.
Defensive tackle Al Medyn was a sophomore then and remembers players walking off the field after the Villa Park game in tears because it was the end of their high school careers.
“I respected all of the seniors on that team because they tried so hard,” said Medyn, a two-year starter. “They really had a desire to win. They didn’t like losing at all.”
Medyn says that he is so used to winning now that he has a hard time remembering how it feels to lose.
“When you lose, your desire to win is so great that you usually don’t have a hard time getting pumped up for games,” he said. “But when you win all the time, that energy has to come from some other motivation. And the motivation can’t be the winning streak. Your only reason for winning can’t be because it will increase the streak to 27.”
Esperanza still has plenty of talent in the line. Medyn is joined on defense by tackle Travis Kirschke, a junior voted to the All-Southern Section team last year. The 6-foot-4, 236-pound player will be one of the top prospects in the Southland next season.
But for the second year in a row, the Aztecs have some offensive power to work behind the linemen. Running back Garrick Emry has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Quarterback Josh Buscaglio threw a 59-yard touchdown pass last week in the team’s 12-0 victory over Villa Park in the quarterfinals.
Coaching alongside Meek for the last 16 years has been defensive coordinator Bill Pendleton. He has seen the good and the bad but says the pressure has never been greater than now.
“To win, we have to be at our peak every week,” Pendleton said. “Every opponent is out to try and stop our streak. It’s hard for a team to peak every week. You’re at your best for certain games, but usually not every one.”
Esperanza is a growing school with 2,400 students in four grades. So many went out for football this season that there were two freshman teams.
The Aztecs will remain in the Empire League next season, but it has not been decided if the league will move to a higher division. Meek knows a move up could mean more recognition.
“We’re not the best-known football school in Southern California,” he said. “But winning sure has brought us more attention.”
Streaking Anaheim Esperanza High has won 26 consecutive games, dating back to the beginning of the 1990 season. The streak, game by game:
1990 (14-0) Santa Ana: 20-7 Diamond Bar: 30-3 Westminster: 21-0 Long Beach: Jordan 36-21 Sunny Hills: 17-13 Los Alamitos: 27-3 Loara: 12-7 El Dorado: 26-10 Cypress: 42-0 Katella: 42-21
Playoffs Alhambra: 47-0 Leuzinger: 31-7 Hart: 38-35 St. Paul: 25-7
1991 (12-0) Santa Ana: 20-14 Santa Ana: Valley 42-0 St. John Bosco: 12-6 Long Beach Jordan: 24-12 Sunny Hills: 28-7 Katella: 26-0 Los Alamitos: 28-7 Loara: 21-0 El Dorado: 41-3 Cypress: 26-7
Playoffs Santa Monica: 50-14 Villa Park: 12-0