2001: A Helix-Oceanside Classic

Helix’ 41-30 victory over Oceanside in a matchup of Cal-Hi Sports’ Nos. 1 and 2 Division II teams ranks among the all-time San Diego Section playoffs, not only for brilliance but for the bizarre.

“It was a game for the ages,” wrote Tom Shanahan of The San Diego Union.

Coach Gordon Wood’s Highlanders defended their 2000 championship and won for the third time in four seasons after a back-and-forth offensive struggle that started slowly and built to a frantic finish.

Helix coach Wood received traditonal shower after victory.

Helix coach Wood received traditional shower after victory.

Oceanside quietly staked a 9-0 lead and held the virtually-50-points-a-game Highlanders scoreless in the first quarter.

Wood, anxious to jumpstart his offense in the second quarter, dialed up the “fumblerooski”,  a  goofy, age-old play dating to sandlots and stuffed pigskins.

Highlanders center Brandon Halama faked a snap to quarterback Alex Smith, who drew in the Pirates’ defense when he rolled left on an apparent option play.

Halama hid the ball.  Left guard Zach Burgi reached over and picked up the ball, as he would a fumble, and rumbled 59 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown.


Alex Smith had informed game officials what Helix was going to do, but many observers, including outraged Oceanside coach  John Carroll,  felt the play should have been whistled dead because Halama appeared to trap the ball and that Halama’s  knees were touching the ground.

Helix' Burgi was picture of grace as he made end zone via fumblerooski.

Helix’ Burgi was picture of grace as he made end zone via fumblerooski.

“I think it should have been (downed), too,” Burgi told Jim Lindgren of The San Diego Union.  “But you can’t replay it and I don’t want to give it back.”


Helix used the momentum burst to build a 28-9 lead in the third quarter, but Oceanside hit back and closed to 28-23.  Helix went back in command, 35-23.

Oceanside’s backup quarterback, Randy Noa, who replaced the injured Rick Coppack, passed 19 yards to Jose Perez with 39 seconds left in the game and Oceanside now trailed, 35-30.

The Pirates recovered an onside kick.  Coppack limped back on the field to complete a 25-yard pass to Daniel Segi.  First down on Helix’s 25-yard line with 24 seconds left.

Coppack’s next pass was incomplete.  The Pirates then called a screen play to running back Mautia Poumele.  Helix’ Larry Pierce cut in front of Poumele and made a leaping, one-handed interception and lugged the ball  70 yards for the game-clinching touchdown with 13 seconds left to play.


The regulars at Mike Romano’s popular eatery took up almost all of happy hour discussing the issue of the day. Even the ladies making pies at “Mom’s” on Main Street had taken notice.

Could Julian’s Evan Fisher break the 8-man touchdown record and could the Eagles earn their first undefeated season?

Each was in play as Julian lined up against La Jolla County Day in the San Diego Section V championship at Julian.

Fisher had 49 touchdowns and the state record for 8-man touchdowns was 51, set in 1990 by Country Day’s Rashaan Salaam.  Julian was 11-0. An undefeated season had been elusive.   The Eagles were 9-1 in 1971, 7-1-1 in ’77, 6-1 in ’85, and 9-1 in ’92.

Fisher sustained a shoulder injury the week before in a 28-0, semifinals victory over Midway Baptist and was cleared to play late in the week but sat out the first half of the championship game.

Julian was behind 7-6 and trailing for the first time all season when Fisher entered the game on the first play of the second half.  He tied Salaam’s record with a 14-yard touchdown run at the end of the third quarter.

It wasn’t until 1:11 remained in the game that Fisher scored again, giving him 52 for the season and punctuating the Eagles’ 30-13 victory and 12-0 season.

“It was amazing,” said Fisher.  “The whole season came down to a perfect ending.”


The nation mourned but football was played at Vista High.

The Panthers destroyed Pasadena Blair 70-0 on Sept. 13, two days after the World Trade Center terrorist act.

“I certainly haven’t been sitting around saying to myself, ‘Gee, I sure hope we get to play,’” Vista coach Chris Hauser told Mick McGrane of The Union. 

“We understand the gravity of the situation,” Hauser said.  “Unfortunately, in high school, you don’t get to make up your games.”

While the NFL and some college teams canceled games, San Diego’s high schools were going to play.

Vista played Blair on Thursday night.  The next night schools in the Grossmont, Metropolitan, and City conferences fulfilled their scheduled obligations.


“There are some coaches who think it would be disrespectful to those who died in New York and at the Pentagon to play games on Friday night,” said Morse coach John Shacklett.

“I know our players don’t seem as focused,” Shacklett added, “but the other side of the argument is to try to get back to normal as soon as possible.”


Seismic activity was reported in La Mesa and Spring Valley when Helix and Monte Vista converged.

In a season of strong teams with powerful offenses, Helix rose above all, striking with earthquake-rattling havoc, but Monte Vista showed at least once that it could hang with the State’s top-ranked Division II team.

Monte Vista thrived on Franklin's rushes.

Monte Vista thrived on Franklin’s rushes.


Coach Gordon Wood’s  Highlanders, 7-0, averaging 53 points a game, and riding a 20-game winning streak, were heavy favorites over Ed Carbery’s  6-1 and 29-point averaging Monarchs.

When Jim Arnaiz took his 212 victories and retired after the 1999 season he left a stocked pantry for successor Wood, who discovered that future NFL No. 1 draft choices Reggie Bush and Alex Smith came with the bread and flour.

Bush rushed for 316 yards in 25 carries and scored two touchdowns and Smith passed for one touchdown, but the Monarchs had answers.

Running back Gary Franklin gained 277 yards in 30 carries and scored five touchdowns and Monte Vista, racing to a lead of 17-0, beat back each Helix threat and  held off the Scots, 38-27.

“Every week we send out postcards to our team with a message,” Carbery explained to writer Jason Bott.  “This week it was  ‘I shocked the world’, (as) when  Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston.  These kids believed all week we could do it, and I’ll be darned if they didn’t.”

The Monarchs defeated the Highlanders with a Helix-like ground attack.  “We were able to drive the ball all night against these guys,” said Franklin, who out-Bushed Bush with touchdown runs of 5, 20, 74, 12, and 1 yards.

“I told these kids that if we could hold them to half of what they normally score we’ll win the game,” said Carbery.  “They believed all week that we could beat this team.”


Smith and Helix avenged loss to Monarchs.

Smith and Helix avenged loss.

Helix quarterback Alex Smith called a play in which Helix receiver Charles Smith ran a deep pass pattern toward the goal posts and running back Reggie Bush circled out of the backfield.

Charles Smith was covered, but there was no Monte Vista defender in sight when Bush took Alex Smith’s pass on Helix’ first play from scrimmage and scored on a 55-yard play.

The Monarchs never recovered as Helix romped to a 61-28 victory in the D-II semifinals.  Smith completed 10 of 12 passes for 273 yards and 6 touchdowns.  Bush rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns, caught two passes for touchdowns, and threw for another.

“Make no mistake, the beast came out tonight,” said Helix coach Gordon Wood to Jason Bott.  “This is the first time this entire season we put all phases of our game together. I just hope we can come back in a few days with the same type of effort.”


Helix survived an unlikely surge from a somewhat unexpected source in the fourth quarter of its quarterfinals playoff with Ramona.

The Valley League runners-up Bulldogs, a dangerous and respected 9-1 but from a league not considered among the elite, closed with a 22-point fourth quarter that had the host Highlanders perspiring before they escaped with a 33-32 victory.

Leading 26-10 with 9:57 left after Reggie Bush’s 19-yard touchdown dash, the Scots were knocked backward when Ramona scored 16 points in 30 seconds and tied the game at 26 with 3:31 remaining.

Bush's 317 yards weren't enough.

Bush’s 320 yards were just enough.

Bush, who rushed for 320 yards in 17 carries, ran 37 yards to give Helix a 33-26 advantage. There was 2:51 left.  Ramona did not wave the white flag.  Tim Plough passed 34 yards to Pat Skahan and a touchdown.

One minute, 13 seconds remained on the clock.  Ramona coach Bill Clark thought long and hard on the sideline and decided to go for the two-point conversion and victory.  Plough’s pass to tight end Nick Conklin didn’t connect.  The receiver slipped in the end zone.

“I thought about kicking (the extra point for a tie) but my coaches on the sideline were saying we should go for it,” Clark told Mick McGrane of The San Diego Union.

“I thought, ‘What the heck?’” said Clark.  “We had to give it a shot, because we could not stop Bush.”


Things were looking up everywhere at Julian, what with an 8-man championship, and something new.

It had gotten so bad at Julian that teams refused to play on the Eagles’  barren, rutted and rock-strewn field.  Julian was forced to move home games to Ramona High, 22 miles down the hill on California Highway 78.

What should have taken 6 months needed 4 years, but Julian finally had a emerald field of freshly sodded grass and an all-weather track.

There were several delays.

The field had to be graded more than once and there were multiple attempts to grow grass.  The construction company charged with the project went bankrupt.

Julian dedicated its new field with a 69-0 blowout of Sylmar First Lutheran.


Anaheim Esperanza, coached by former San  Diego State lineman Gary Meek, defeated Fallbrook 20-10 as the Aztecs’ Shaun Wildenstein broke down the host Warriors with 308 yards rushing in 43 attempts, and scored three touchdowns.

Meek’s offense seized an obvious advantage.  The Aztecs’ offensive line averaged 257 pounds.  Fallbrook’s defensive forwards averaged 191.


Calipatria (6-2) had enough of Santa Fe Christian after being pummeled 56-6 by the Eagles in the regular season, so the Hornets declined an invitation to play ‘Fe in the first round of the playoffs, effectively ruling themselves out of the preseason.

“If we can’t get Army-Navy (another possible opponent) we want (Concord) De La Salle,” said Santa Fe coach Brian Sipe, tongue  in cheek.

Santa Fe Christian was the state’s top-ranked small schools squad, but De La Salle was No. 1 in the country, riding a streak of 122 consecutive wins.

The Eagles  finally were aligned against Calexico Vincent  Memorial (8-1) and their 48-8 victory was followed by a 42-36 victory over Christian for the IV championship.


Sipe,  who first became known as an 11-year-old playing for the Little League World Series champion La Mesa All-Stars in 1961, was a 13th-round draft choice and 330th player selected in the 1972  NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns.

The Grossmont High graduate barely got on the field in his first two seasons, but went on to a 10-year quarterbacking career that included an NFL most-valuable-player season in 1980.

Sipe retired in 1985 after two seasons in the U.S. Football League and walked away from football, only to return this season and lead the little school near his home in San Diego’s North County to a 12-0 record.

Sipe went on to post a 75-21-1 record with the Eagles until joining the San Diego State coaching staff in 2009.

“I’m getting to watch boys live out there dreams,” Sipe told Tom Shanahan of  The Union. “High school football is the greatest camaraderie and most sincere time you’ll have as a team.”


Nine teams with nonwinning records, two less than in 2000, were invited to the postseason.  Counting 8-man football, 48 of the San Diego Section’s 80 football-playing schools would be in the running for five championships.

Sixty per cent of the teams that started the season still were playing, the third highest rate of participation among the state’s 10 sections.

Steve Brand of The San Diego Union did some research.  Between 1960, the first year of the San Diego Section, and 1979 there were 19 teams with one loss and 40 with two losses who were finished after the last regular-season game.

A trend, popular with coaches and fans of marginal teams, and unpopular with the media and almost everyone else, had started.


Dennis Pugh, who served as head football and baseball coach and athletic director at Mission Bay, announced that he was stepping down from his football position, then watched the Buccaneers ambush unbeaten and 12-0 Marian Catholic 37-7 to win the III title.

“Wearing three hats is very difficult,” said Pugh. “That and the (San Diego Unified School District) is going through a lot of turmoil and isn’t really certain where it’s going athletically.”

Pugh was Mission Bay’s football coach on three occasions.  His teams posted an overall record of 13-15 from 1981-83, 18-24 from 1986-89, and 42-8 from 1998-01.  Pugh eventually moved on to become baseball coach at Cal State-San Marcos.


Marian’s loss to Mission Bay also knocked the Crusaders off another perch.  They were the County’s top scoring team, averaging almost 50 points a game in their first 12.  The Crusaders finished the season with 605 points for a 46.5 average.  Helix scored 618 for a 47.5 average.


Thirty-three graduates of San Diego Section were listed on NFL opening day rosters, including Point Loma’s Eric Allen, an Oakland cornerback starting his 14th season…After a 3-0 start, matching the total wins for all of 2000, Mar Vista coach Gary Pugh resigned…the Mariners had beaten The Bishop’s, 6-0,  for the first time in 4 years, ended a 34-year winless streak in a 7-0 victory over Sweetwater and defeated neighboring rival Southwest 28-13 to win the annual “Bell Game”…Valhalla won its first five games for the first time since 1982…El Camino assistant coach Trace Deneke, a Lt. Colonel in the Marine Corps reserves, was called to active duty in the wake of 9/11…Joe PaoPao, an 11-year Canadian League  quarterback veteran who played for Meyer at Oceanside, replaced Deneke…true to his word, Morse coach John Shacklett, even in a down year, didn’t duck the tough ones…the Tigers opened the season with Carlsbad, El Camino, and Vista, lost all three and were outscored 155-33…Ramona didn’t score a touchdown but defeated Poway, 17-12…the Bulldogs’ Tim Valencia tied a San Diego Section record with 5 field goals, longest being 39 yards, and  a Poway snap from center went out of the endzone for safety…Ramona’s 9-2 season was its best since the 1959 team was 12-0…Bonita Vista beat La Costa Canyon 17-7 for its first playoff victory in 21 years and after 13 consecutive playoff defeats…Gabe Sayers, nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, wore his uncle’s jersey number 40 and was a running back at Hoover…


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