Ask Jeff Engilman what lesson he learned from having his unbeaten City Section champion football team from Sylmar High play unbeaten Southern Section large-division champion La Puente Bishop Amat for a mythical Southern California championship 17 years ago, and his answer is quick.
“Not to play it,” he said.
The CIF/Reebok Bowl in 1992 turned out to be a public-relations disaster for Engilman’s Sylmar team and the City Section. The Spartans lost to Bishop Amat, 31-14, before a crowd of 8,132 and a live television audience at Angel Stadium.
Bishop Amat finished 15-0. Sylmar ended up 13-1 and the players acted as if the game was not a big deal, because they were still celebrating a 17-0 win over Carson in the City final the previous week.
And that brings us to Saturday’s CIF state championship Open Division bowl game matching City Division I champion Crenshaw (14-0) against Northern California powerhouse Concord De La Salle (12-2).
It’s the first time since the Reebok Bowl that a City champion will be playing this late in the year.
Can Crenshaw regain respect for the City Section?
“Crenshaw has a lot more talent than we had at the time,” said Engilman, who is now the coach at Arleta High. “Their head coach did a real good job of scheduling Southern Section teams.”
Engilman said Southern Section teams usually have better discipline than City teams, and he’s referring to executing fundamentals. For example, Engilman said City players instructed to run 10-yard pass patterns will vary, running eight yards one time, 12 yards the next. He said Southern Section receivers run 10 yards almost every time.
But Crenshaw’s success in beating five consecutive Southern Section teams to start the season -- Lakewood, Norco, Fontana Miller, Riverside North and Culver City -- is an indication that the Cougars have the discipline and experience to compete against a De La Salle program that once won 151 consecutive games.
Engilman said Crenshaw has another advantage his team didn’t have -- motivation. This is the fourth year of the bowl system, and each year it has gained in stature.
He remembers that some of his players “didn’t know who Bishop Amat was.”
“Our goal was to win the City title and they did,” he said.
The Internet has enabled players and coaches to become more familiar with teams outside of their neighborhood, and Crenshaw is as familiar with De La Salle’s tradition as it is with its natural rival, Dorsey.
Just seeing what Crenshaw will be able to do representing the City Section is going to be one of the most intriguing story lines from Saturday’s game.