Short defensive backs are a disaster waiting to happen against Newbury Park High. Panther receivers run fade routes and simply outleap defenders.
Diamond Bar (13-0) has defensive backs as short as any around, ranging from 5 feet 6 to 5-9. And the Brahmas are short on experience defending against the pass. None of Diamond Bar's opponents threw nearly as often as Newbury Park will.
That's a big reason the coaches of two teams who have played Newbury Park and Diamond Bar--Mike Kelly of Thousand Oaks and Mark Pasquarella of Ayala--give the edge to the Panthers (13-0) in the Southern Section Division III football championship game at Moorpark College tonight at 7.
Even Diamond Bar Coach Terry Roche believes his team is in trouble, noting that only three defensive backs are employed in his 4-4 alignment.
"That's why I'm not sleeping well," he said. "We pretty much have to go with what got us here, and what got is here isn't going to work."
George Hurley, the Newbury Park coach, scoffs at the idea that Diamond Bar is overmatched.
"[Roche] said the same thing last week before they played Chaminade," he said. "Diamond Bar is very skilled and knows how to win."
The Brahmas have a knack for prevailing in the second half. They defeated Ayala, 7-6, to win the Sierra League title and the past two weeks rallied to defeat Thousand Oaks, 31-19, and Chaminade, 14-10. Newbury Park beat Thousand Oaks, 37-27, and knocked off Ayala, 49-29.
"My kids are like a pack of ferrets; they keep coming and don't quit," said Roche, who added that eight of Diamond Bar's games have been decided in the fourth quarter. "It's not like we blow people out of the yard, but these kids have great heart."
Roche, 44, is in his second stint at Diamond Bar. He was coach the first five years the school was open, from 1982-86, and after a 2-8 mark without seniors in '82, posted a record of 47-5-2, including 27 consecutive victories and a 1984 Southern Section conference championship.
After taking off several years to watch his son, Brian, play at Damien High, Roche reclaimed the reins in 1992. A 5-5 team was followed by records of 7-3-1 and 9-4 leading into this season.
For Diamond Bar to stay with the high-powered Panthers, diminutive Lathian Tyler (5-7, 168 pounds) must come up with big plays.
Tyler, the tailback in the Brahmas' I formation, has rushed for 1,558 yards and 24 touchdowns. The senior also has four touchdowns on kick and punt returns and is a talented defensive back.
The team's best pass defender is Lathian's brother, Deron, a 5-6, 148-pound junior. Deron also returns kicks and is dangerous on reverses from his wide receiver position.
Tim Ruiz has passed for 1,397 yards, and is best in the clutch. He completed several passes during Diamond Bar's winning drive against Chaminade. Ruiz likes to throw to tight end Brian Surgener (6-4, 212 pounds), who also is an outstanding linebacker.
"We've got some big-time problems," Roche said. "Newbury Park is by far the best we've seen this year. For us to play with them, we'll have to catch some breaks."
Newbury Park suffered its first serious injury in its 22-15 victory over Westlake last week when senior Dave Tully broke his left leg. Ryan Sullivan, an accomplished special teams player, replaces Tully at nose tackle.
While the Panthers are down a player, Diamond Bar will bring along its 12th man--the school band, which has earned a reputation for being one of the largest and loudest in the Southern Section. The band will blast music during Newbury Park's possessions and be silent when Diamond Bar has the ball.
"That band is something to contend with," said Pasquarella, coach of Diamond Bar rival Ayala. "It can unnerve you."
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Tale of the Tape
Diamond Bar vs. Newbury Park
Brahmas Panthers Record 13-0 13-0 League Finish Champion: Sierra Champion: Marmonte SEASON Avg. Pts. 28.2 36.5 Avg. Pts. Allowed 10.5 15.4 Yds. Per Game 340.3 420.2 Yds. Allowed 160.5 207.9 PLAYOFFS Avg. Pts. 30.3 38.0 Avg. Pts. Allowed 9.7 18.0 Yds. Per Game 327.7 420.7 Yds. Allowed 207.0 238.7