Helix’ run to the San Diego Section Division II title represented what may have been the finest coaching job in Jim Arnaiz’s 27-season career.
The Highlanders were an indistinct 4-2-3 when they began their run.
–They improved to 5-2-3 and clinched second place in the Grossmont South with a 27-7 victory over Granite Hills, the victim of Arnaiz’ 200th career win.
–The Highlanders won their first playoff game but not before they trailed by 13 points in the first half and withstood a 328-yard, 3-touchdown passing performance by Scripps Ranch’s Corey Kroviak.
Jason (Moving) Van bailed out the Scots in the 29-26 triumph with second-half touchdown runs of 12, 4, and 79 yards.
“Number 201 was not easy,” said Arnaiz, “but we’re not worried about how many wins coach Arnaiz has anymore. Right now we’re on a mission, a mission to get to the Q (Qualcomm Stadium, site of the finals)”
3–Helix improved to 7-2-3 in the quarterfinals with a 27-24, double overtime win over tough Monte Vista, which had beaten the Highlanders, 15-7 in the regular season.
Arnaiz made a risky but defining decision in the second overtime. Go for tying field goal on fourth down or go for the victory.
The coach let his players make the call and Van pounded in the winning touchdown from the four-yard line.
“It’s what they (his players) wanted to do,” said Arnaiz, adding that “you could play overtime all night against those guys.”
After a regulation-game tie of 14-14, the teams traded touchdowns, necessitating a second overtime. Monte Vista went ahead, 24-21, kicking a field goal after coming up short on fourth down at the 2.
“I had to get it in,” said Van of his game-winner. “That was all I was thinking. I just had to get it in.”
4-5–The road appeared to get a little easier but still ahead were hard-fought, successive victories of 14-7 over Castle Park in the semifinals and 19-7 over Chula Vista in the championship as Van ran the Highlanders to the title.
The 9-2-3 record was not close to being the best but maybe it represented the most satisfying in Arnaiz’ career.
“We started the season as a medium-ranked team in San Diego County,” said Arnaiz. “We followed our mantra of “good, better, best”, and sure enough we got better each week.”
“Jason Van was a solid running back for us and our quarterback was a good athlete. We had a good defense and our kicking game was solid.”
Arnaiz, not one for hyperbole, could have been revealing the DNA of one of his typical Helix squads.
2-8 AND PROUD OF IT
Playoff meetings, always controversial and usually rancorous, drew perspective from opposite ends of the philosophy scale.
St. Augustine’s Joe Medina, asked if his team probably was out of the postseason after a loss to University had left the Saints with a 1-5 record:
“Heck no, we’re going to the playoffs,” Medina posited to Steve Brand of the Union-Tribune. “They always have a team with just three wins in our division.”
The Saints finished the regular season with a 2-8 record.
St. Augustine “earned” a Division III postseason berth after Medina successfully argued at the seedings meeting that losses to D-I Morse, D-II second seed Chula Vista, and D-III second seed University meant the Saints deserved inclusion.
Left out in D-II was El Camino (3-6-1), denying coach Herb Meyer a chance to win his 300th game and ending the Wildcats’ streak of 17 consecutive postseason appearances.
HERB CALLS IT AS HE SEES IT
Meyer later revealed to Brand what he said at this year’s seedings meeting.
His team played one of the more difficult schedules but Meyer told a stunned group of peers that his squad had no business participating in the playoffs.
“I argued in favor of (only) eight-team divisions in 1993,” said Meyer, recalling that the decision was made that year to include 12 teams.
“My opinion hasn’t changed,” Meyer told Brand. “If you’re upright and can take a breath you’re in the playoffs these days. It’s a joke.”
“The playoffs,” Meyer added, “should be the reward for having a good season and I certainly didn’t consider 3-6-1 a good season.”
But playoff dye, more like bleach, had been cast years before.
BONITA VISTA FIRST TO BREAK THROUGH
Losing teams in the playoffs had been increasing since Bonita Vista, 3-7 in 1984, became the first loser to gain the postseason.
Medina, 56-38-1 with the Saints since 1991 and with three championship appearances, did not apologize.
“Surprised? No,” Medina replied to Steve Brand. “The way the system is set up, with 12 teams making the playoffs, we deserved to go, because I believe we are one of the 12 best teams (in D-III).”
Medina would no longer have to campaign. He stepped down after the season and moved out of the area.
And 12 teams eventually would become 16, with more divisions, and more losing teams.
THIRD BEST FEELING
“Except for when I asked my wife to marry me and she said yes and when my kids were born, there’s no better feeling in the world,” said Vista coach Steve Silberman.
The Panthers had just beaten beat Torrey Pines, 24-14, for the D-I title after tying the Falcons, 21-21, in 1997.
Leading by 10, Vista intercepted a pass with less than two minutes remaining and Torrey Pines out of timeouts.
“They’re dead!” Silberman could be heard exclaiming into his headset. “I’m coming down.”
The coach jubilantly exited the San Diego Jack Murphy press box, from which he coached the game, and headed for the elevator to the field.
Torrey Pines had come a long way despite the loss to Vista. The Falcons were 12-0-1 in 1997 but returned only one D-I prospect, wideout-defensive back John Donohue, and head coach Ed Burke was faced with a challenge.
Go with his honed and successful Wing-T offense or adjust. Burke adjusted
The veteran mentor continued to employ the Wing-T with success, but also adopted a aerial offense behind quarterback David Bradley, who passed for 18 touchdowns.
BURKE’S LAW, CONT.
It was a special year for Burke, who coached a California team to a 10-5 victory over a Texas squad in a summer game that originally was the California North-South Shrine game.
Burke also was nominated by the Chicago Bears’ John Allred, one of Burke’s former players, as the NFL’s High School Coach of the Year. He was one of five finalists and was part of a television commercial that played throughout the country.
Burke was 154-40 (.791) in sixteen seasons at Torrey Pines before he retired after the 2008 season. He won 215 games with San Diego Section teams.
GOOD AS IT GETS IN SOUTH BAY
Tom Shanahan’s lead in Union-Tribune said it all: “They closed the gates and stopped selling at 5,600 tickets. By then the stands at Chula Vista High were filled and fans lined the fences….”
The host Spartans dressed up Joe Rindone Stadium not only for homecoming. The Hollywood-like halftime program featured a light show, fireworks, and an illuminated stage on the darkened field.
NFL-styled Chula Vista and Castle Park helmets were painted at midfield and both endzones were painted “Spartans”.
Flying above the concrete retaining walls were 20 blue-and-white banners, 17 for league titles and three for CIF titles (1953 and ’54 in the Southern Section and 1983 in the San Diego Section)
That was the stage for No. 8 Castle Park’s 13-9 victory over No. 2 Chula Vista. The Trojans (8-1) clinched the Metropolitan League with a 6-0 record and ended the unbeaten season of the Spartans (7-1-1).
Mike Frazier ran 59 yards for a touchdown with 5:30 remaining in the game to give the Trojans a 13-3 lead. Ball game.
NEW SCHOOL, NEW LEAGUE
Valley Center High opened for about 950 students in grades 9-11, setting off a chain reaction that shook up two vintage leagues and meant formation of another.
1–Valley Center became part of the new Valley League, also including Escondido, Orange Glen, Ramona, and San Pasqual.
2–Escondido, Ramona, and San Pasqual left the Avocado League.
3–Orange Glen and Fallbrook bid sayonara to the Palomar.
4–The Avocado League now numbered Fallbrook, Carlsbad, Oceanside, El Camino, La Costa Canyon, and Torrey Pines.
5–The Palomar was aligned with Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Mt. Carmel, Vista, Rancho Buena Vista, and San Marcos.
FIELD OF DREAMS
Bob Wilson played football at Escondido in 1946 but when Wilson and wife Marion declared their intention donate $1 million to the school they weren’t sure where the money should go.
After considering several options the Wilsons decided on the football facility.
“I couldn’t believe they were playing any games there,” said Wilson. “The field looked awful and the wooden benches in the stands were splintering.”
The Wilsons’ contribution grew to $2.2 million and the result was that this year there was a 5,111-seat concrete structure.
The edifice was dedicated when Escondido and San Diego played in the 100th anniversary of their history-making game.
Chick Embrey Field remained the name of the gridiron and the stadium was named after the Wilsons.
100 YEARS FOR 100 YARDS
San Diego High had a football team. Escondido also had a team, but was it a collection of high school students or various young men who represented a “town” team?
Newspaper accounts of the day didn’t dwell on such mundane matters, so over the years that game came to symbolize the beginning of high school football in the County, although San Diego had played local military squads and such since 1891.
On Dec. 16, 1898, San Diego players and others rode tally ho stage coaches to Escondido, where the Hilltoppers scored a 6-0 victory.
On Sept. 11, 1998, the schools played again in the new Escondido Bob Wilson Stadium. The Cougars won, 36-13.
Maybe just as significant the host school reintroduced a rite that had been abandoned many years before.
The Cougars held a bonfire before the game.
“We are reenacting a tradition,” said principal Ed Nelson. “The whole idea is to relive the past.”
The Cavemen and Cougars had not met since 1971. The biggest victory in school history had been Escondido’s 19-13 win over San Diego in the first year of the San Diego Section playoffs.
RUNS IN THE GENES
Vista’s Pisa Tinoisamoa dedicated his high school career to his uncle, Sal Aunese, the brilliant quarterback of the Panthers’ 1985 team, which was named No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports.
Aunese died of stomach cancer at age 21 after becoming the starting quarterback at Colorado.
Tinoisamoa would go on to play at Hawaii and was a second-round draft choice of the St. Louis Rams in 2002 and played nine seasons in the NFL.
Chad Cox of Mountain Empire set a Section record with 50 points on seven touchdowns and eight points after in a 62-6, first-round Division IV playoff victory over Salton City West Shores.
Santa Fe Christian ended the Redskins’ season with an 18-0, quarterfinals victory the next week, but Cox retired with a record 262 points, topping the 222 by Rancho Buena Vista’s Scott Garcia in 1988.
Forty-four miles west, West Hills’ Monty Duke was operating with Cox-like results, leading host West Hills past Bonita Vista, 39-14.
Duke passed for five touchdowns and ran for another as the Wolf Pack’s no-huddle offense overwhelmed the Barons.
First-year coach Dan Leaf, saying he was hopeful of getting more candidates out for practice at Montgomery, was telling prospective players that he was related to Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf.
Montgomery returned 12 starters and Wardell MacNeal, one of the Section’s top short racers in spring track.
The Aztecs, 1-9 in 1997, improved to 3-7.
BUT YOUR TEAM LOST!
“It was a great time,” said Army-Navy coach Damian Gonzalez after the 41-13 playoff loss to The Bishop’s.
Let’s try that again.
“It was a great time,” said Army-Navy coach Damian Gonzalez after the 41-13 playoff loss to The Bishop’s.
The loss was no fun, but Gonzalez was looking at a bigger picture.
The coach was proud that the team was so well represented in the stands at La Jolla High. The entire battalion of students was bused to the game from the Carlsbad campus.
Had Army-Navy won the school would have had to keep a dormitory open and none of the football players and ancillary personnel would have been able to go home for the Thanksgiving holiday.
And the season was a success.
The Cadets finished with an 8-2-1 record, their best since the 1990 squad was 8-1.
ONCE A ‘DEVIL ALWAYS A ‘DEVIL
Eastlake’s nine-day, two-game Northwest tour included a Seattle Seahawks game.
Twelve-year NFL veteran Dan Saleaumua, who played for Eastlake coach Gene Alim at Sweetwater, purchased 65 tickets to a Seahawks next game and arranged for the squad to watch practice.
Eastlake defeated Terry Fox, a school in suburban Vancouver, British Columbia, 55-20, and South Kitsap of Poulsbo, Washington, 28-23.
WIN ONE FOR THE BENNIE
Point Loma drove 75 yards in 15 plays and scored with 33 seconds left to defeat El Camino, 7-6, in the season opener for both teams.
More significant was the Pointers’ first victory since 1955 while being led by a coach other than Bennie Edens.
Mike Hastings, who played for Edens in the 1980s, succeeded Bennie after the 1997 season, which was a 0-10 finale for Edens.
“I hated to see him go out like that, but tonight we beat Herb (Meyer), his longtime friend, and that’s really a compliment to him and all he’s taught me and this team,” said Hastings.
Edens in retirement coached for a former friend at Willamette College in Oregon for one year, and then returned to San Diego.
Vista, Torrey Pines, University, and Helix were Nos. 1 through 5 in the final Union-Tribune poll.
Vista was ninth in the state, ninth in D-I, and sixth in Southern California as selected by Cal-Hi Sports. Torrey Pines was No. 8 in the state D-II, Uni third in D-III, Marian fourth in D-IV, and Francis Parker ninth in D-V.
Hoover beat La Jolla, 23-7, in the third postseason game ever played on the Cardinals field and the first since 1986…the first was in 1935, when the Cardinals bowed to Jackie Robinson and Pasadena Muir, 27-0…Coronado coach Walter (Bud) Mayfield was on crutches for half the season after sustaining a broken leg in an accident at home…Morse and Lincoln did not play each other for the first time since 1981…Dave Ponsford was only the fourth La Jolla head coach since Harry West gave way to Gene Edwards after the 1961 season…Edwards was followed by Dick Huddleston in 1990…San Diego was back in the Central League, where it was a member from 1981-92…the Cavemen were in the Eastern League from 1993-96, and Western League in 1997…Warner played its first season of 11-man football…Ramona, after years of playing home games on a junior high field a mile away, christened a new stadium…permanent seating and a press box were added at Valhalla, which has had lights since 1994…The Bishop’s 31-game winning streak came to an end in a 31-24 loss to Santa Fe Christian…Omar Shaheed, the former Chuck Benbow, brought his Compton High team South to play his alma mater, Kearny…the Komets beat the Tarbabes, 34-6.