An undefeated regular season and a Pacific League championship were highlights of Crescenta Valley High's 1997 football season.
Now the Falcons are ready to take the next step--winning a playoff game.
Crescenta Valley hasn't advanced to the second round of the Southern Section playoffs since 1992, a streak that became more painful for Coach Alan Eberhart after the favored Falcons lost to Righetti in a first-round game last season.
"Our goal last year was a league championship," Eberhart said. "It took everything we had to get that. We were content with that, it was like the playoffs didn't matter. We felt like our season was already over."
The Falcons won their first league title last season since 1976, but lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third time since 1993.
Reaching the playoffs is always a reasonable early season goal, but that won't be enough to satisfy Eberhart this year.
"It took years and years to teach these kids how to win," he said. "It was ugly for a while in the 1980s--the kids never believed in themselves. Now we've had seven straight winning seasons, and we want to win a playoff game."
Eberhart says the way to accomplish that goal is through the air.
Last season, behind senior running back Kenny Pritchett, who rushed for 1,816 yards and 22 touchdowns, the Falcons were one of the region's top running teams.
But the Falcon passing attack produced only 644 yards and seven touchdowns. Righetti took advantage in the playoffs, holding Pritchett to 94 yards in a 24-7 victory.
"If the playoffs taught us anything, it's that we have to be balanced," Eberhart said. "[Righetti] came out and stopped our running game and we couldn't adjust and throw. You can only go so far if you can only do one thing."
Quarterback Seth Santoro, who passed for 375 yards and four touchdowns in 1997, returns as the starter. But he is being challenged by junior Scott Vossmeyer, who led the junior varsity team to a 10-0 record last season.
The receiver corps appears to have been cloned. John Barbaro, Steve Carballo, Jared Salisbury and Geoff Clark are all fast and all about 5 feet 10 and 170 pounds.
"We're going to be a bunch of little gnats out there," Eberhart said. "We're going to have to spread it out.
Only five starters return for Crescenta Valley, two on defense and three on offense.
Shifty senior running back Derrel Furutani appears to have the inside track at replacing Pritchett at tailback.
Junior lineman Ryan Morris (6-6, 288), who played only defense last season, will go both ways. Teaming Morris, a Division I college prospect, with returning starters Reid Merlo (6-0, 230), Rusty Colburn (6-5, 260) and John Kang (5-11, 230) makes the offensive line Crescenta Valley's main strength.
Winning the Pacific title is always a challenge in a league known for parity.
Arcadia has nine starters returning from a 9-4 team that finished third in the league. Seven returners were selected all-league.
Muir is always a contender and this season should be no exception. The Mustangs have talent and speed at the skill positions, despite the graduation of running back Sultan McCullough, now at USC.
"The league could very easily end up in a three-way tie," Eberhart said.
Pasadena returns nearly every starter from a 4-6 team, giving the Bulldogs an advantage in experience.
Much-improved Glendale is not likely to challenge for the league title, but could be a factor.
The Dynamiters are experienced and Coach Pete Smolin seems to be forging a turnaround for a team that has won only six league games in six years.
"We're trying to keep our goals simple," Smolin said. "This year we want to have a winning season. Last year we just wanted to get the kids in pads and get them on the field."
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AT A GLANCE
* THE PROVEN: Crescenta Valley junior Ryan Morris (6-foot-6, 288 pounds) will be one of the top linemen in the region. Glendale returns a trio of three-year varsity starters: tight end-defensive end Rami Burpee is a two-time all-league selection, receiver Angelo Walker was second-team all-league and receiver Doug Choi is lightning fast. Arcadia returns four of five starters on an offensive line that averages 6-3, 253 pounds, including Mark Balch, the league's lineman of the year. Senior center Reid Merlo (6-0, 230) will anchor a strong offensive line for Crescenta Valley. All-league defensive back James Samuel moves to quarterback for Muir and has enough athletic ability to keep defenses on their toes. Two-way line starter Edwin Furlow (6-4, 250) has bulked up 25 pounds since last season. Glendale quarterback Carlos Gutierrez is the most experienced signal caller in the league.
* THE PROMISING: Crescenta Valley quarterback Scott Vosmeier led the junior varsity to a 10-0 record last season and is challenging incumbent Seth Santoro for the starting job. Arcadia receiver Dexter Davis could be the most exciting player in the league. Muir's Roderick Thomas rushed for 111 yards in his only start last season. Greg Hawkins, Muir's top linebacker, is healthy after an injury-plagued junior season. Crescenta Valley has speed on the outside with a quartet of first-year receivers: Steve Carballo, John Barbaro, Jared Salisbury and Geoff Clark. Talented Glendale linebacker Ariel Marmol (6-1, 185) moves up from junior varsity. Glendale sophomore running back Dustin Nersesyan (5-10, 190) is strong and fast. Shifty Crescenta Valley running back Derrel Furutani (5-8, 160) has impressed coaches in his bid to replace Kenny Pritchett.
* FAST FACT: Crescenta Valley has a lot of holes to fill, but has a nice pool to draw from. The Falcon freshman team was 9-0 two years ago and the junior varsity was 10-0 last season.
* 1997 STANDINGS: 1. Crescenta Valley, 5-0 league, 10-1 overall; 2. Muir, 4-1, 8-4; 3. Arcadia, 3-2, 8-4; 4. Pasadena, 2-3, 4-6; 5. Glendale, 1-4, 3-6; 6. Hoover, 0-5, 1-9.