Defenses will set tone in Pac-5 final

Times Staff Writer

Defensive end Michael Reardon of Orange Lutheran stands 6 feet 6, weighs 260 pounds and is an all-everything recruit headed to USC.

Free safety Dominique Vinson of Huntington Beach Edison stands 5-11, weighs 165 and is looking for a scholarship.

Despite their size differences, both loom large on two outstanding defenses for teams that will play Saturday night in the inaugural Pac-5 Division championship, the Southern Section's premier title game, at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

Reardon brings leadership and passion to Lutheran's defense. He plays with a motor that never stops, whether in practice or games, and is a physical force and presence that can't be ignored.

"Michael is a little like the tide that lifts all boats," Orange Lutheran Coach Jim Kunau said. "His presence has such a positive effect on all the people around him."

Reardon, in fact, was responsible for what turned out to be the decisive points in the Lancers' 23-22 victory over Long Beach Poly in the semifinals. He charged from his right side and tackled quarterback Gabriel Thomas in the end zone for his 12th sack of the season, a safety that made the score 23-0 in the opening minutes of the third quarter.

Kunau, watching from the sidelines, called it "a matter of will."

"He is a powerful young man, and he's done that all year," Kunau said. "He's made big plays when we needed them. We didn't know it at the time, but we needed that play."

When told that his play provided the decisive points, he eschewed the attention and said his "teammates made a lot of other big plays, it wasn't just that one."

Orange Lutheran (12-1), which won the Division VI title in 2004, was the second-seeded team in last year's playoffs but was upset in the first round by Tustin. Reardon missed that game with a staph infection.

That defeat is a motivating factor this season, he said.

"I don't think our guys lost that feeling, what it's like to lose in the first round," he said. "We've worked so hard in practice. It was like we lost our focus, got full of ourselves, and that's not the case this year."

The Lancers' defense has been superb against the run, in part because of the play of middle linebacker Ricky Pemasa. If it has a weakness it's in the secondary.

Edison features a balanced offense led by junior quarterback Nick Crissman and perhaps the surest-handed receivers in the Southland in Vinson, Hunter White and Jacob Slaton. So, any pressure Reardon can apply to the quarterback won't go unnoticed.

"He is as dominating a defensive player as I've seen all year," Edison Coach Dave White said. "I see him beating two guys all the time."

Edison's challenge to fend off Reardon became more difficult this week when Martin Coleman, the Chargers' USC-bound tackle, broke his leg in practice. That reduces Edison's margin for error on both sides of the ball.

The Chargers (11-2) may have the highest-scoring defense around. They have scored eight touchdowns -- four by linebacker Hunter White, who is the coach's son, three by Vinson and one by Jimmy Keating. The Chargers have 23 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and 50 sacks.

Vinson was soft-spoken this week, saying he didn't want to get wound up too soon, preferring to keep his excitement bottled until game night. His past performances, however, speak loudly.

As a receiver, Vinson caught passes for 91- and 41-yard touchdowns, giving him 14 this season, in the 14-3 semifinal victory over Santa Margarita, but his contribution at free safety can't go unnoticed.

He also had an interception against Santa Margarita, his seventh of the season, which is notable given that Edison's 4-3 defense will be focused Saturday on Aaron Corp, a USC-bound quarterback who has completed 71% of his passes.

Five of Vinson's interceptions have come against opponents ranked in The Times' top 25. Three were returned for touchdowns, including nonleague and playoff victories over Anaheim Servite, the second-seeded team in the Pac-5 playoffs.

"Dominique brings big-play potential on both sides of the ball," Dave White said. "You come to expect it. He's done it so often. I know he's going to make the big play. You almost take it for granted."

Edison's deep run in the playoffs has, finally, stirred some recruiting interest for Vinson, most recently from Washington, Louisville and Nevada.

"He's a force you have to account for on every single play," Kunau said of Vinson. "He's one of the elite players we'll have played all season."

Vinson, who describes himself as "football smart," has an inherent feel for the game and even played quarterback as a freshman. His offensive acumen serves him well on defense.

"He gambles sometimes, but it's always a calculated risk," White said. "He studies film, he knows where the ball is going, he reads the quarterback's eyes. Some people have a nose for the ball."

Vinson figures he's just putting himself in "win-win situations."

"I want to make big plays and turn the game around," he said. "If your defense stops the other team, how are they going to score?"

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