One streak will end in Division I

Times Staff Writer

Football fans will have much to soak in Saturday night when Canyon Country Canyon takes on Concord De La Salle in the third of the CIF State Football Championship Bowl Games.

The Canyon Cowboys, 11-2 and the Southern Section's Northern Division champions, ride into the Home Depot Center in Carson on a 10-game winning streak. They have a 2,600-yard passer in senior Ben Longshore, a 2,000-yard rusher in senior J.J. Diluigi, and both contribute mightily to an offense that has averaged 45.5 points.

And then there are the Spartans, whose reputation definitely precedes them.

De La Salle, 13-0 and champion of the North Coast Section, is seeking not only the Division I state title, but a sixth mythical national championship. It is ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.

Coach Bob Ladouceur, in his 28th season, is seeking his 18th undefeated, untied season. And, of course, the school had a 151-game winning streak that lasted from 1992 to 2003.

It would be easy to say De La Salle is back, after going 19-5-2 the last two years. But even though the Spartans did not record unbeaten seasons in 2004 and 2005, they have appeared in every North Coast Section championship game since 1983, and have won 22.

When a program has won that consistently, it might be difficult to bring anything besides manufactured enthusiasm for Saturday's game.

But Ladouceur, 52, said the Spartans will be ready and motivated.

"I think it's a real big game for us, as big as any of the ones we've played down here," Ladouceur said. "And I think the kids are just as excited too."

Said senior center Marco Noce: "We are excited because no teams have done this game in a while. We are playing to win, and for past teams that did not play in it. I've talked to guys from last year's team, and they are excited for us."

Ladouceur, whose career record is 319-19-3, admitted he is close to retiring. Although he said Saturday's contest won't be his last, there may not be many more.

"I enjoy what I'm doing and I have a great staff that helps me," he said. "It's tough to back away when I have so much help and support like that.

"But this is my 28th year. I do see the door, believe me. I don't want to keep coaching forever. It's tough to say when I'm going to step out. But I can definitely say it will be pretty soon. It's not going to be this year, but it's coming up."

The question that always follows a program that wins in unprecedented numbers is how do they do it?

De La Salle, a private, Catholic, all-boys' high school located about 30 miles east of San Francisco, charges $11,400 per academic year and has an enrollment of 1,014.

While it has produced outstanding players -- alums in the NFL include Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville), Amani Toomer (New York Giants), D.J. Williams (Denver) and Demetrius Williams (Baltimore) -- the Spartans are rarely big or imposing.

This year's squad, for example, has only 13 players on its 52-man roster that weigh more than 200 pounds, the heaviest being 275-pound lineman Matt Wondolowski.

Instead of depending on size, the Spartans rely on technique and conditioning to wear down opponents. And they manage to find players willing to perform under those conditions.

"What you always hear about De La Salle is we win because we recruit the best players," said Zack Klaas, 17, a 6-foot, 205-pound offensive guard and defensive end.

"But we take average players and the coaches get the most out of them. I am undersized, but they pounded me with technique and they got the most out of me. I believe I have maximized my potential."

And although they no longer have a winning streak to uphold, tradition is very important to the program.

"A lot of pressure is put on us by our past history," said Noce, who is 5-10 and weighs 215. "We expect to go undefeated. That is a goal. It's us wanting to end our season the right way. We won't be satisfied any other way.

"If Canyon outplays us, OK, but you want to win that last game."



The De La Salle legend

Some facts and figures on the Concord school whose accomplishments have reached mythic proportions:

* De La Salle's national record of 151 consecutive victories from 1993 to 2003 is 40% longer than the second-best mark, the 108-game active streak of Charlotte Independence.

* De La Salle stretched its state record of consecutive section playoff victories to 41 last week with a 33-7 victory over Pleasanton Foothill in the North Coast Section final.

* De La Salle has taken on three of the Southland's most renowned programs, including four consecutive victories over Mater Dei from 1998 to 2001 and two over Long Beach Poly in 2001 and '02. Only Mission Viejo has had any success against De La Salle, winning meetings in 2004 and '05, before losing, 35-28, this fall. That was De La Salle's closest game of the season, although the Spartans led by 21 points in the fourth quarter.

* The Spartans are 164-0-2 against Northern California teams since 1992.

* When Bob Ladouceur became the De La Salle coach in 1979, the school had not had a winning season in its first 12 years of varsity competition. After coaching the Spartans to a 6-3 record in the first season, Ladouceur has compiled a 28-year record of 319-19-3.

* The Spartans are working on their 18th perfect season, including 12 in a row during their record winning streak.

Researched by Van Nightingale

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