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Mission Viejo Takes Hard Road

Times Staff Writer

The Mission Viejo High football team is ranked No. 1 in the Southland and this much seems certain: If the Diablos finish there, they’ll have earned it.

Mission Viejo’s schedule is every bit as tough as the Diablos are good, starting with Thursday’s regionally televised season opener against Los Alamitos that they won, 55-21.

Los Alamitos, another perennial power, entered the game ranked No. 3 in the Southland and from here it doesn’t get much easier for either team.

Next up for Mission Viejo is No. 14 Santa Ana Mater Dei, then Huntington Beach Marina, followed by No. 2 Long Beach Poly and, last on the nonleague schedule, Concord De La Salle, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation and had won a record 151 games consecutively before dropping its opener last week against Bellevue, Wash.

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The loss by De La Salle surely disappointed Mission Viejo players and coaches -- the Diablos wanted to be the ones to end the streak -- but if they were down at all it didn’t show against Los Alamitos.

Mark Sanchez was solid at quarterback, but Chane Moline stole the show by rushing 16 times for 276 and four touchdowns on runs of one, two, 46 and 52 yards. He also caught an 11-yard touchdown pass, one of two receptions for 31 yards. The Diablos rolled up 580 yards of offense and scored on seven of their first eight possessions.

Moline, who also carried for a two-point conversion, dominated the first half. At one point in the second quarter, he had successive carries of 52, 61 and 40 yards and had 221 yards rushing in 12 carries.

Sanchez completed 10 of 15 passes for 196 yards and touchdowns of 29, 11 and 30 yards, the latter providing a 48-14 lead in the third quarter.

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Jimmy Barnes completed 11 of 23 passes for 130 yards and two interceptions -- both when his arm was hit by a defender on the release. Cortez Rice rushed 22 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns.

As for Los Alamitos, the Griffins might try to find some solace in Coach John Barnes’ comments before the game: “The best teams are the ones that improve, win or lose, until the end of the season. You need big games early to play big games later. They’ll help you mature.”

Barnes, whose Griffins play Division IV power La Habra and City power Carson in Weeks 4 and 5, apparently has company in that thinking. The top five schools in The Times’ preseason rankings have at least three nonleague opponents who reached section semifinals last season. Six of the top seven schools will play at least two section finalists before opening league.

“It’s very important to us to play good people ... very important to our program,” said Bob Johnson, Mission Viejo’s coach. “We’re good.... We had a 41-game win streak. The program speaks for itself.

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“When people talk about other programs being so good, well, we’re so good. That may sound arrogant, but we’re good. So let’s play. It’s not like we’re over-scheduling.”

Some thought that Newhall Hart Coach Mike Herrington had gone overboard with his nonleague schedule last year, especially after the Indians lost their first three games by narrow margins.

But they never lost again.

Hart was 3-3 when it played Foothill League-rival Canyon Country Canyon, which was 6-0 and untested against the same caliber of opponent. Hart won, 56-21.

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“We basically dominated because we had played at a higher level through the [nonleague season],” Herrington said. “We found some weaknesses early against the high-caliber teams and had to make adjustments to play at that level, and that made us a better team.”

Hart’s season culminated with a victory over Mission Viejo in the Division II title game, ending the Diablos’ Orange County-record winning streak at 41 games.

“When we start our season off, we want to win the league championship and we want to win the [Southern Section] championship,” said Johnson. "[Nonleague] games really have nothing to do with those two goals, other than preparing.”

Los Angeles Loyola also prospered despite taking its licks early. The Cubs, who play in the powerful Serra League, lost nonleague games to Venice and Hart and were 3-3 after six weeks. They then won eight in a row, including the Division I title with successive victories over Los Alamitos and Long Beach Poly.

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“First of all, it’s tough to find people who want to play you if you’re a winning school,” Loyola Coach Steve Grady said. “We were 5-0 one time and hadn’t played anybody, and went into league and got our rears kicked because we had no idea what a tough game was.”

One City Section team, L.A. Dorsey, played good but not great nonleague opponents last season -- none of the five finished with a losing record, but none ventured deep into the playoffs -- and its only game closer than 14 points was a 13-12 victory over Coliseum League-rival L.A. Crenshaw in Week 9. Then came the City semifinals, and a 19-18 loss to Carson.

Carson, which went on to beat Venice, 30-20, for the championship the following week, had lost to Venice in the season opener, 34-14, and to Central Section Division I runner-up Clovis West, 21-0, and Los Alamitos, 31-6, in Weeks 4 and 5.

Coincidence?

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“I think it made us a better team,” said John Aguirre, who resigned after his Colts beat undefeated programs in successive games to win in the semifinals and finals. “It got our team to work at a higher level for a higher standard.”

Experience is important for both players and coaches. Adults need to be tested too, and that doesn’t come from a successive string of blowouts.

“If you’re not constantly being challenged as a coach, the chances increase that you’re going to get out-coached,” said Jon Mack, whose Ventura St. Bonaventure team will play two of the Southland’s top 10 teams, Hart and Lakewood. “You know you’re going to get a well-coached, well-disciplined, well-prepared team. It doesn’t help your team to play a game where you can just out-coach your opponent or your team is just superior.”

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Running Together

Each of The Times’ top 15 teams plays five nonleague games, except Moore League rivals Long Beach Poly and Lakewood, which play four. Here’s a comparison of their nonleague opponents this season, including how many reached last season’s playoff semifinals (S), finals (F) and won championships (C):

*--* Rk. Team S F C Opp. Rec. 1 Mission Viejo 4 2 1 47-17 2 L. B. Poly 4 3 1 43-9 3 Los Alamitos 3 3 2 44-18-2 4 Edison 3 0 0 38-22 5 Hart 4 3 2 54-12 6 Loyola 2 2 1 47-16 7 S.O. Notre Dame 2 2 1 43-16 8 Dorsey 0 0 0 27-28-1 9 Lakewood 2 1 0 28-9 10 St. Bonaventure 2 2 1 47-15 11 Orange Lutheran 1 0 0 27-28 12 Bishop Amat 0 0 0 33-24 13 Valencia 1 1 1 33-25 14 Mater Dei 2 2 0 45-16 15 Charter Oak 0 0 0 35-22

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