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Hugs Instead of Thugs Characterize Feel-Good Game of the Year

Considering how many reports of recent high school football games have contained the words “bench-clearing brawl,” Friday night’s Notre Dame-Chaminade game came at just the right time.

By all accounts, the tape of Notre Dame’s 19-15 victory ought to be preserved in a time capsule.

It was one of those rare games when the losers couldn’t really feel too depressed, because of the quality of the game between teams that entered the matchup unbeaten.

“It was weird,” Chaminade quarterback Jason Zdenek said. “I’ve never lost a game and felt good.”

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Notre Dame Coach Kevin Rooney and Chaminade’s Rich Lawson, who have been on opposite sides of one of the Valley’s fiercest rivalries, hugged at midfield after the game.

“Sure the loss hurts,” Lawson said, “but our kids felt that we performed pretty well. We were able to do the things that we need to do that will help carry us on through the playoffs.”

It was one of those games when the defensive players laid out bone-jarring, crowd-electrifying hits, then reached out a hand to help up the ballcarrier.

“That’s what I liked about their team and our team,” Notre Dame receiver Troy Garner said. “We were helping each other up and patting each other on their butts and saying, ‘Nice play,’ because we knew both teams were pretty good.”

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After the game, many Chaminade players and coaches went to Zdenek’s home for a postgame gathering that was anything but somber.

“I almost wanted to have Notre Dame over, too,” said Zdenek’s father, Gene.

And it was one of those games that kept the overflow crowd in suspense. The lead changed hands three times.

The game wasn’t decided until Ryan Bowne’s interception in the end zone with 10 seconds left stopped Chaminade’s desperate last-minute rally, handing the Eagles their first loss and preserving Notre Dame’s perfect season.

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“My stomach was churning the whole game,” Garner said. “That was our most challenging game of the season. Everyone was feeling the pressure. . . .

“Those are the games we live for. Those are the games that everyone wants to play.”

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The game may also be remembered because, as of now, the rivalry is not scheduled to continue. Notre Dame is moving into the Del Rey League, leaving Chaminade in the Mission League.

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Lawson said he would like to continue the series, and he doesn’t see why Notre Dame would object.

“They shouldn’t be worried,” Lawson said. “In my nine years here I’ve only beaten them twice.”

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Paraclete lost a heartbreaking 28-27 game to Rosamond on Friday night to drop out of the third and final automatic playoff berth in the High Desert League. But the Spirits (5-5) were on the practice field Saturday morning, hoping for an at-large berth in the Southern Section Division X playoffs.

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Verdugo Hills is in the City Section football playoffs.

Honest.

The Dons (6-4), who have suffered through numerous pathetic seasons since last posting a winning record in 1981, earned the historic berth with Thursday’s 34-14 victory over Belmont.

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The game was played at Verdugo Hills before a “crowd” of about 600, which is still significantly more folks than the Dons were drawing earlier this year.

“People just weren’t showing up to the games,” quarterback. Ethan Slimak said. “But we’ve had more people lately. It’s actually fun.”

Slimak said the turnaround at Verdugo Hills has come largely because of first-year Coach Don Scott, who brought a new sense of discipline, along with plenty of players from the 9-1 frosh-soph team he coached last year.

“It’s believing in the kids and having them believe in themselves,” Scott said. “For so long everyone has told them that they aren’t any good, but they are. They just aren’t tapped.”

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Verdugo Hills will play at Hamilton (4-6) Friday in the first round of the 3-A Division playoffs.

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The past week has been much easier for the Royal water polo team than for Royal’s leading scorer, Bill Bruininga.

While the top-seeded Highlanders cruised to a 21-2 victory over Calabasas in the first round of the Southern Section Division IV playoffs Thursday, Bruininga sat out, suffering from flu.

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Bruininga, who said he could hardly eat for four days because of a sore throat, said watching his teammates play without him was as bad as being sick.

“It was weird because everyone was walking by me, saying, ‘Why aren’t you playing?’ ” Bruininga said. “Everyone was in there having a good time and I’m left out.”

Bruininga said he was feeling better on Friday and will be able to play in the Highlanders’ second-round match Wednesday against Dos Pueblos.

He is eager to return because he thinks Royal (23-4) has a good shot at adding its first Southern Section title to 15 consecutive Marmonte League championships.

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“Our whole team is just great,” he said. “It’s just that feeling of being unstoppable. We are kind of like the Dallas Cowboys.”


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