With the spring high school sports season canceled, prep columnist Eric Sondheimer is looking back on some of the most memorable championship games in Southern California history.
The CIF championship football bowl games began in 2006, with 13,863 fans showing up at Home Depot Center in Carson on Dec. 17 to see the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, unbeaten Concord De La Salle, play in the Division I final. Coach Bob Ladouceur was already a legend, having guided his team to a 151-game win streak.
De La Salle’s opponent was Canyon Country Canyon. Some didn’t even think the Cowboys belonged in the final. Canyon was chosen over unbeaten Riverside North after public lobbying by coach Harry Welch. Welch put together a defensive scheme that made De La Salle’s famed veer attack suddenly look ineffective.
“I had a very mobile, very intense group of kids,” Welch said.
Canyon executed to perfection and pulled off a 27-13 victory behind running back J.J. DiLuigi and a relentless defense.
Bob Ladouceur is, arguably, the greatest high school coach, “period,” Welch said. “One night we played better than they did. Had we played 500 times, I don’t know how many times we’d win again. I really thought the concentration and execution and enthusiasm to play football that night was the difference. De La Salle had no reason to believe they needed to play their best game to beat us, and we knew we needed to play our best game. In that sense, it was an advantage for us.”
At the time, few thought a public school from the Santa Clarita Valley could beat a top California private school.
“There weren’t a bunch of future college football players on [Canyon] but a lot of good high school players,” Welch said.
DiLuigi would go on to become a good running back at Brigham Young. Another of the Canyon players was Joe Wade, who’s now the police commander in Atherton, Calif., in the Bay Area. He runs into former De La Salle players who became police officers.
“There’s other policemen on that De La Salle team, and to this day they are still upset,” Welch said Wade had told him.
Welch ended up being a pretty good coach himself. He won state bowl games at three different schools: Canyon, St. Margaret’s and Santa Margarita. He was 12-1 in Southern Section and state championship games, losing only to Antelope Valley in 1988.
“All I remember is, at the end of the game, the Antelope Valley stands were cheering, ‘Harry, Harry, Harry,’ and I don’t think that was with a lot of love,” Welch said.
His teams won nine Southern Section championships, but that night of 2006 has a special place in Welch’s heart.
“It certainly was the most memorable,” he said. “It’s certainly the most talked about game I have been in.”
He ran into some Americans on vacation in Europe.
“We started talking and they remembered the game — and we were in Vienna,” Welch said.