Before football season opened, a confident Serra High assistant coach said the Cavaliers had comparable talent--on paper, at least--to the 1989 team that was 14-0 and won the Southern Section Division VII title.
Well, it's time to throw that paper in the waste basket.
Serra (4-4) probably won't even make the playoffs after falling to 0-3 in the Mission League with Friday's 28-14 loss at Chaminade. The disappointing season has left Cavalier coaches scratching their heads and pointing fingers, mainly at each other.
The primary scapegoat appears to be first-year offensive coordinator Scott Altenberg, whose system has been criticized by Coach Charles Nash and others on the staff for being too complicated for high school players. Serra, despite a wealth of offensive weapons, has averaged only 11 points a game in league play.
"Hindsight is always better, but I think some things we've done in some instances were a little too complex," Nash said. "Looking back, I think simpler would have been better."
In an effort to simplify the offense, Nash said Serra has changed some of its blocking schemes and adopted a more run-oriented attack. But the changes might be too little, too late. The Cavaliers need to win their last two games against St. Bernard and Bishop Montgomery, and St. Francis needs to lose one of its remaining games in order for Serra to gain the league's third and last playoff spot.
If Serra continues to play like it did Friday against Chaminade, it won't win again this season.
The Cavaliers botched three punts that led to three short scoring drives for Chaminade, and quarterback DeWayne Hervey completed only six of 24 passes for 59 yards. Hervey, a returning starter who has struggled as a senior, will be replaced by junior Darnell Lacy in Friday night's game at St. Bernard.
Perhaps the brightest part of the football season at Serra has been the play of freshman Brice Montgomery, who has scored 27 touchdowns in leading the sophomore team to a 7-1 record.
Montgomery, a two-way starter at tailback and cornerback, cannot play on the varsity team this season because he is only 14.
"If he was 15, for sure I would have brought him up," Nash said. "He's a tremendous talent."
ON THE BUBBLE
Carson High, the 1993 City Section 4-A Division football champion, might not have the opportunity to defend its title after being forced to forfeit two Southern Pacific Conference victories because of an ineligible player.
The forfeits have left Carson in fifth place at 2-3 in the eight-team conference. Judging by the remaining games, the best Carson can realistically hope for is a fourth-place finish. That may or may not be good enough to get the Colts in the 4-A playoffs.
The 16 teams judged to be the best in the section will be placed in the 4-A playoffs after the season, with the next 16 placed in the 3-A bracket. The new selection process begins next week when coaches from each of the six conferences meet to rank their teams, one through eight, and recommend which teams, if any, should be placed in the 4-A and 3-A playoffs.
The results will then be turned over to a seeding committee, which will determine the playoff draws Nov. 11 based on the coaches' recommendations, strength of conference, past records and, if necessary, strength of nonconference schedule.
The intensity level figures to be turned up Friday night when Serra visits St. Bernard in a game with playoff implications. Adding to the highly charged atmosphere will be the season's most intriguing coaching matchup.
St. Bernard's offensive coordinator is Kevin Crawley, who was dismissed as Serra's coach midway through last season. Crawley was added to the staff after the Vikings lost their opener against Culver City, 26-12. He is using the same offense, the run-oriented wing-T, that he did at Serra.
"After the Culver City game, I knew we needed help with the offense and more help with the line," said St. Bernard co-coach Bob Yarnall, who took over the team with Tom Burgess after Mike Noonan resigned as coach shortly before the season. "Lo and behold, (Crawley) showed up. He said he saw the Culver City game and would be glad to help out in any way, even if it was carrying water. I talked with him and was very impressed."
Yarnall made several inquiries and came to the conclusion that Crawley's dismissal at Serra was caused by parental pressure. Crawley came under fire at Serra for allegedly being verbally abusive to his players.
Yarnall said Crawley has exhibited no such behavior at St. Bernard.
Steve Sarkisian can't seem to get out from under the shadow of John Walsh.
Both were quarterbacks at West Torrance High in 1990 when Walsh transferred to Carson for his senior year, leaving Sarkisian, a junior, as West's starter. Now, Sarkisian has his sights set on replacing Walsh again.
The El Camino College sophomore has given an unwritten commitment to transfer to Brigham Young University, where he hopes to succeed Walsh as the Cougars' quarterback next season. Walsh, a junior, is expected to skip his senior year in favor of the NFL.
Sarkisian, who has completed 71% of his passes for 2,533 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, will lead El Camino (7-0) against Long Beach (7-1) in a showdown for first place in the Northern Division of the Mission Conference at 7 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Stadium. He passed for 354 yards and four TDs Saturday in a 35-14 victory over Mt. San Antonio to become El Camino's career passing leader with 5,503 yards, breaking the previous record of 5,448 yards set by Tim Green (Aviation High, USC) in 1981-82.
The home-field advantage definitely means something to the South Torrance High football team. The Spartans are 4-0 at home and 0-4 on the road after Friday's 35-3 loss at Mira Costa.
"We just haven't played well on the road," South Coach Mike Christensen said. "We haven't showed up. Our kids are aware of it, but we can't seem to do anything about it. We turned the ball over three times inside Mira Costa's 20. You can't do that against a good team."
The good news for the Spartans is that they return home to play Morningside on Friday night. They close out the season Nov. 10 at El Segundo. If South wins both games, Christensen believes the team can finish in fourth place in the Ocean League and gain an at-large berth in the Division VII playoffs. South is in fifth place at 2-3, but fourth-place Redondo (3-2) finishes against Culver City and Mira Costa, the league's top two teams.
"It's bad because it's out of our control, but I think we can do it," Christensen said.
On another note, Christensen said tailback Chad Morton will not play again this season after suffering a broken collarbone in South's opener Sept. 9. In Morton's absence, quarterback-tailback Mel Miller has had to shoulder most of the offensive load. He leads the team in passing, rushing and scoring.
Bishop Montgomery, regarded as the area's second-best prep girls' volleyball team behind Mira Costa, went unbeaten in seven matches Saturday to win the championship of the Redondo tournament.
Led by tournament most valuable player Cindy Weglarz, the Knights defeated Culver City, Peninsula, Whittier Christian and El Toro to reach the playoff round, where they beat Palisades, El Toro and South Torrance.
Area players joining Weglarz on the all-tournament team were Heidi Ilustre and Teri Zartman of Bishop Montgomery, Allison Root and Angela Daywalt of runner-up South, and Percilla Donald and Heather Peters of Redondo.
Harbor College, playing its second consecutive game without ailing Coach Don Weems, posted its first victory of the season Saturday by defeating host Santa Monica, 14-9, in a Western State Conference football game. The Seahawks are 1-7.
Loyola Marymount had its 12-match winning streak snapped last weekend, but still managed to keep its grip on first place in the West Coast Conference women's volleyball race. Pepperdine upset Loyola, 15-13, 2-15, 15-12, 2-15, 15-13, Saturday at Firestone Fieldhouse, leaving the Lions (15-7, 9-1 in the WCC) with a two-match lead over second-place San Diego (16-7, 7-3) with four matches remaining. Loyola, seeking its second conference title and first since 1986, plays at San Francisco on Friday night.