La Mirada and Poly, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively among high school football teams in the Southeast and Long Beach areas by The Times, face stiff challenges this week against highly rated Orange County schools that share the same playing site.
The top-ranked Matadores (4-0) play at Valencia of Placentia at 7:30 tonight. Valencia (3-1) is ranked No. 10 by The Times in Orange County.
Poly (3-1) plays Esperanza (3-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Valencia. The hosts are ranked No. 5 in Orange County.
The La Mirada-Valencia game pits two defending CIF Southern Section divisional champions.
Valencia, which defeated Wilson last week, 49-0, won the 1992 Division VI title. La Mirada did the same in Division VIII.
"We'll find out how good we are this week," La Mirada Coach John Mele said. "Valencia has some big linemen."
But so do the Matadores, including 6-foot-6, 285-pound Ben Adams, 6-3, 260-pound Jerry Lemon and 6-4, 260-pound Ken Watts. They are part of a formidable front line. Fourteen players from last year's championship team are back.
Running back Ryan Hura, who had a twisted ankle and sat out La Mirada's 30-7 victory over La Habra, is expected to return to the lineup. He will share duties with Albert Smith, who rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns last week.
"We have two really good running backs and they're running hard right now," Mele said.
Wide receiver Alex Khasaempanth has not returned to the lineup since breaking his arm after running into a goal post in the 28-7 divisional championship victory over San Marino last December. He may return in two weeks.
"Our passing game has to get better," Mele said. "And we need to cut down on penalties and mistakes."
Valencia lost its season opener, 30-26, to Villa Park, but has since outscored opponents 115-0. Running back Chris Draft scored three first-quarter touchdowns in the rout of Wilson.
Long Beach Poly has recovered nicely since stumbling to a 12-6 loss to Eisenhower of Rialto in the season opener. The Jackrabbits have allowed four opponents to score only 22 points. Esperanza is also having a good year defensively. The Aztecs stopped Leuzinger of Lawndale with a goal-line stand in the first quarter of a 20-6 victory last week.
Poly co-Coach Jerry Jaso predicted a close game Friday.
"For us to win we have to eliminate our mistakes, kick the ball very well and play great defense," he said. "I think it will be a low-scoring game."
Cornerbacks Lamont Morgan and Kelly Malveaux have hampered opposing passing attacks, but against Esperanza's ground game they probably will be asked to come up to make more tackles, Jaso said. Also playing well for the Jackrabbits are linemen Danjuan McGee and Brandon Whiting. Offensively, running back Afa Faraimo has "been strong catching the ball and also running the ball," Jaso said. Quarterback Robert Toler and center Chris Tuliau have also performed well.
Esperanza of Anaheim, which played Los Alamitos to a 14-14 tie in the 1992 Division II title game, has played lethargically at times, especially against Leuzinger, Coach Gary Meeks said.
"I thought we would play a heck of a lot better than that," he said. "We didn't block well and we kept hurting ourselves."
Jaso is not fooled. "It should be a great football game," he said.
Perhaps it is time for Moore League schools to consider getting out of Division I, or, at least, split up the league. Subtract Poly's 3-1 start and the combined record of the other five teams is 7-16. Wilson is winless at 0-4, and none of the others has more than one victory. Compton's only win was a nonconference game against city rival Centennial, which is winless. The other Moore League teams are Jordan, Lakewood and Millikan.
Division I is considered the "major division," or best division, in the CIF Southern Section. In the past 25 years there have been several divisional name changes, but only Poly, which tied Edison of Huntington Beach, 14-14, for the Big 5 Conference title in 1985, has consistently performed on a major-division level. With a new high school on the west side of Long Beach being contemplated, Poly's boundaries, which have provided it with some of the best talent in the city, will be cut in half and that could water down its ability to compete in the division.
Dropping out of Division I would more than likely benefit all the league members. From 1977 to 1981, when the Moore League stepped down two notches to play in the Coastal Conference, its teams won four Southern Section titles and finished second the other time.
Different year, same result. Montebello and its wing-T offense is chewing up opponents. The Oilers, 8-2 during the regular season in 1992, are off to a 3-1 start, including last week's hard-fought 10-6 win over previously unbeaten El Rancho of Pico Rivera. They have outscored opponents, 75-31, going into Friday's 7:30 p.m. game at California High near Whittier. The only stumble: a 10-0 loss to Rowland in the second week of the season.
"We've made a few changes defensively since the Rowland game," Coach Doug Rihn said. "We played well in that loss, but now we're playing even better with the new personnel in there."
With the exception of the Rowland game, the Oilers' rushing attack has rumbled.
Running back George Zedan has rushed for 225 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Adolph Esqueda has gained 305 yards with four touchdowns. Both average more than 6 1/2 yards per carry, thanks in part to the blocking of tackle Manuel Nunez.
On defense, end Carlos Rivas, lineman Jason Munoz and defensive back Joey Hernandez have been standouts.
Right tackle Richard Harris, the team's largest player at 6-4, 245 pounds, has missed most of the season with a broken hand. He may be available when Almont League play begins next week.
ON THE REBOUND
In recent years, St. John Bosco High School of Bellflower has been known more for its basketball teams than its football exploits. But this fall the Braves are off to a 3-1 start and they have begun to turn some heads with their offensive abilities. They scored 32 points in their season opener, which they lost, 35-32, to Rancho Santa Margarita of Mission Viejo. Since then, they have scored at least 42 points in each game.
"We're a little more experienced this year," said second-year Coach Jerry Person. "Last year were were starting seven sophomores at times."
The offensive line of tight end Frank Gomez, tackles Mario Meraz and Oscar Montana, guards Alex Garcia and Jim Meyer and center Paul Sipper have led the way for running back Ryan Williams to gain 700 yards. Running backs Nick Johnson and Lamar Hillman and quarterback Bob Fierro have also performed well in the wing-T set.
"The defense is coming along," Person said. "We've made great strides. Linebacker Raul Tapia has made some big hits."
The Braves are in the tough Del Rey League, and have held opponents to three touchdowns in their last eight quarters. League play starts next week.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Cal State Long Beach has become Long Beach State, at least in reference to athletic teams.
A two-year campaign by 49er athletic officials gained momentum with publication of the 1993-94 edition of the National Directory of College Athletics. For the first time, the 49ers are listed as Long Beach State. The directory is generally accepted by sportswriters as a guide to the nation's colleges and universities.