As far back as early 1989, Morse coach John Shacklett was able to smile through some struggles, supported by a mantra that the best was yet to come.
This after the Tigers had defeated Orange Glen, 31-28, for the 1988 AAA championship and not about the potential of the team that would reach the AAA finals again before losing, 21-7, to Rancho Buena Vista.
Shacklett was thinking further ahead, to 1990, and to Teddy Lawrence’s senior season.
Built around the explosive running and passing of Lawrence and junior running back Gary Taylor, Morse returned 29 lettermen and 18 players who started at least one game in 1989.
Rancho, El Camino, Helix, Mira Mesa, Chula Vista, Orange Glen, Oceanside, and Kearny also would be formidable. Morse met five of those teams, but only George Ohnessorgen’s Chula Vista Spartans, in the AAA semifinal, came within a touchdown.
Did this group of gifted players gathered on the 28-year-old campus at 69th Street and Skyline Drive represent the all-time, No. 1 San Diego County team?
Better than the 1955 San Diego High national championship team?
Better than the 1985 Vista juggernaut?
Or some of the Oceanside, Vista, Rancho Buena Vista, and El Camino teams that reflected the population explosion and increased talent pools in the 1970s and ‘80s in the North County?
Not to mention Birt Slater’s 1963 Kearny Komets; any of a number of Duane Maley’s other San Diego High clubs; the Helix teams coached by Jim Arnaiz and Gordon Wood, or the Sweetwaters of David Lay and Gene Alim?
The Tigers built a case for themselves, game by game, beginning in Hawaii Aug. 26.
MORSE 55, @PUNAHOU 15.
Barack Obama’s alma mater, a storied program on the islands, was no match. Teddy Lawrence rushed for 206 yards in six carries and scored on runs of 85, 42, and 67 yards and passed for touchdowns of 65, 11, and 36 yards.
A couple weeks later Punahou defeated St. Louis, Hawaii’s No. 1 team.
MORSE 28, RANCHO BUENA VISTA 14, @Mesa College
A headline read, “Taylor Runs Morse to 28-14 Upset”. It was the last time Morse would be associated with the word upset.
The Tigers were clearly superior.
Gary Taylor burst for 234 yards in the first half, scoring on runs of 75, 85, and eight yards as Morse avenged the 1989 championship loss.
“I was surprised how easily we were able to get outside on them,” said Shacklett, who, not pleased, added, “we self-destructed with penalties.”
MORSE 56, @SWEETWATER 28
Pundits suggested the Tigers would be flat after their big victory and Sweetwater, featuring Willie Branch, who ran for 226 yards in a 25-0 victory over Crawford, was waiting.
Branch returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and the Red Devils’ home crowd of 5,500 exploded.
Branch’s brother, Danny, rushed 71 yards for a touchdown on the Sweetwater’s first offensive play and Willie Branch ran 96 yards with another kickoff.
But Morse found its stride and ran away from the hosts. Gary Clark had 262 yards in 19 carries and matched Willie Branch’s three touchdowns.
“I thought we were in for it (after Branch’s opening kickoff return),” said Shacklett, “but our offensive line wore ‘em down.”
MORSE 57, @VISTA 14
“I’m real pleased with our first four ball games,” Shacklett said.
Is that so?
Morse had just hit Dick Haines with the most lopsided defeat in Haines’ 21 seasons and 226 games as the Panthers’ head coach. The only more decisive loss for Vista was a 46-0 blowout by Tustin in 1946, a span of 433 games.
Gary Taylor rushed for 5 touchdowns and 177 yards and Conan Smith for 104 yards and 1 touchdown.
MORSE 44, LINCOLN 6, @MESA COLLEGE
After a 26-10 loss to Lincoln in 1989, Shacklett ordered the Tiger paws removed from the team’s helmets.
The paws reappeared briefly in the 1989 playoffs but permanence was going to be determined by what happened in the neighborhood fling with the Hornets.
Usually overshadowed by the offense, the Tigers’ defense decided the game with three first-half pass interceptions that led to touchdowns.
“The defense gets it all going,” said safety Tommy Bennett.
MORSE 57, @KEARNY, 6
At 5-0 and ranked seventh in the The San Diego Union poll, Kearny expected to be in the game.
Wide receiver Darnay Scott, who would go on to a solid NFL career, operated on the same offensive level as Morse’s big hitters.
Scott was regarded by some as the section’s top college prospect but went scoreless and caught two passes for 15 yards.
“During (pregame) exercises they did something (in which) they would point at us,” said Teddy Lawrence. “We wanted to score on every possession after that.”
“I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you I’m surprised at how easily we’re scoring,” Shacklett told writer Steve Brand. “You look up and boom….”
MORSE 60, SERRA 8
Gary Taylor raced 67 yards for a touchdown on Morse’s first play. He added three others and rushed for 274 yards in 17 carries.
MORSE 40, @POINT LOMA 13
A matchup of the state’s No. 3 and No. 10 teams doesn’t occur often during the regular season, but here was Point Loma adding temporary seating to augment the concrete bleachers at Ross Field.
The game was such that Wayne Lockwood, The San Diego Union columnist, covered his first high school game in years.
Morse was 7-0, averaging 50.3 points, while Point Loma was 6-0, holding a win over powerful El Camino and having surrendered only 27 points.
“I think we have as good a chance as they do to win,” Point Loma coach Bennie Edens told Steve Brand. ”We’ll move the ball, they’ll move the ball. There will be no 0-0 tie.”
Morse moved to a 26-0 lead at halftime. Point Loma fought back, closing to 26-13 and battling on defense.
“They were hitting hard,” said Lawrence. “Those Glover brothers (La’Roi and Darcell) are good.”
But just as soon as the Pointers caught the Tigers’ scent it was over. Lawrence passed to Tommy Bennett for a touchdown and ran 29 yards for another.
“They shot down the option,” Shacklett said of the Point Loma defense, “so we tried to get Teddy into the open field.”
Lawrence scored on a 59-yard dash on a trap play and got off a couple punts on bad snaps that could have changed the game’s complexion.
MORSE 57, PATRICK HENRY 13
Another Taylor, Gary’s twin brother, Cary, caught a 35-yard touchdown pass. Gary scored three touchdowns and running mate Conan Smith scored two.
MORSE 35, @MIRA MESA 14
Jose Villalana added his fifth point after Morse’s final touchdown, which made for a nice evening’s work for the kicker but the point had greater significance.
The Tigers passed the 1954 Vallejo team that featured future NFL star Dick Bass as the state’s highest scoring team in the regular season, according to Cal-Hi Sports.
Morse now had 489 points, one more than Vallejo, although the Tigers needed 10 games and the Apaches did it in nine.
MORSE 49, GRANITE HILLS 6, @SOUTHWESTERN COLLEGE
It was 42-0 at halftime in this first-round playoff, at which point Shacklett reined in the horses. Morse’s sometimes skittish defense intercepted four passes as the Tigers went to 11-0 and the Eagles to 4-7.
MORSE 48, VISTA 14, @SOUTHWESTERN COLLEGE
Vista manned up, successfully executing an on-side kickoff to start the game, then hitting on a 41-yard pass and scoring on the next play to take a 7-0 lead.
Revamping their attack after their early-season loss, the Panthers went to the air 24 times. They recovered another on-side kick to start the third quarter and closed to 28-13, but Tommy Bennett intercepted a pass and Gary Taylor ran 66 yards for a touchdown.
Vista’s decision to promote its passing game was reflected in its rushing game: 22 attempts, 0 yards.
MORSE 35, CHULA VISTA 28, @SOUTHWESTERN COLLEGE
“I thought we had ‘em,” Spartans coach George Ohnessorgen dejectedly said to Buster Olney of The San Diego Union.
The battle-tested Tigers had to fight back after trailing, 28-13, at halftime amid a slew of turnovers and three Spartans touchdowns in three minutes.
“I was scared at halftime, but I knew we could pull it out,” said Lawrence, who coughed two fumbles and had three interceptions in the first 24 minutes as fog and a roaring Chula Vista crowd engulfed the stadium at Southwestern College.
But it was Lawrence’s 44-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that finally beat the emotionally charged Spartans, who still were coming in the final minute.
A Morse defensive back fell down covering Neviett Richardson, who took a pass over the middle from Brandon Gregg and raced to the Tigers’ five-yard line. But a Spartan was flagged for clipping a Morse defender on the play, nullifying the gain.
Morse survived a barnburner.
MORSE 28, ORANGE GLEN 7, @JACK MURPHY
Teddy Lawrence‘s 99-yard kickoff return turned a 7-7 tie into an eventual walkaway and another championship, Shacklett’s third.
Lawrence’s 71 yards in 12 carries allowed him to meet a 100-attempts minimum for section record consideration. His 101 carries for the season averaged 13.79 yards, breaking Markeith Ross’ 11-man record of 10.83 in 1989.
Gary Taylor’s 2,625 yards rushing broke the 1988 record of 2,568 by Rancho Buena Vista’s Scott Garcia.
Morse’s 649 points and 46.3 scoring average set a state record, topping the 639 of the Southern Section’s Diamond Bar in 1984.
La Jolla Country Day, led by Rashaan Salaam’s 51 touchdowns and 314 points, was Cal-Hi Sports’ 8-man team of the year.
Morse finished second to Merced, which was 13-0 and the Sac-Joaquin Section champion.
The Merced Bears were located only 70 miles from headquarters of Cal-Hi Sports, which was located in Stockton in the middle of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
The Tigers were No.1 in Southern California and No. 4 in the country as selected by USA Today.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER?
Several Tigers received Division I scholarships, but only one played in the NFL and he was undrafted. Safety Tommy Bennett signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals out of UCLA and played six seasons.
Other Tigers who went D-1: Teddy Lawrence, UCLA; Cary and Gary Taylor, Arizona; Kevin Nolan (Purdue), John Moe (Navy), Donnie Rich (Fresno State), and Danny Williams (Fresno State).
Lawrence was a three-year starter at defensive back for the Bruins but was released in training camp by the NFL Baltimore Ravens.
FALCON TAKES FLIGHT
Torrey Pines, coached by Bob Davis and quarterbacked by his son, Chad, wanted to pass the ball.
Chad set San Diego Section records with 55 attempts and 35 completions for 365 yards, the sixth highest total since records began being kept in 1960. All of that offensive airpower was to no avail. The Falcons dropped a 21-9 decision at Sacramento-area Elk Grove.
West Hills, which sustained a 65-8 loss to Grossmont in the Wolf Pack’s 1989 inaugural season, improved from 3-7 to 9-3, won the Grossmont AA title, and defeated the Foothillers, 16-14.
The Wolf Pack’s Nathan Vail toed three field goals, including a 30-yarder with 30 seconds remaining to bring West Hills from behind to victory.
Mar Vista, down to 12 active players, forfeited its last two games to bottom out at 1-9. Fifteen players had been declared academically ineligible and three others were removed because of disciplinary reasons.
Athletic director Pat O’Neil blamed the season’s academic disintegration on the fact that not one of the varsity coaches worked or taught at the school.
“I think it’s very difficult to keep on the kids to find out how they’re doing if you aren’t on campus,” O’Neill told writer Buster Olney.
O’Neill pointed out that “it’s hard to communicate with the other teachers. The teachers are gone by 3 (p.m.) and the coaches get here at 3:30.”
The problem was not new and would not go away.
Morse’s collective power was matched by individual standouts throughout the section.
–Kearny receiver Darnay Scott became a No. 2 draft choice of Cincinnati and caught 408 passes in an eight-season career with the Bengals and Dallas.
–Hoover quarterback Tony Banks played nine seasons with St. Louis, Baltimore, and Houston after being the Rams’ second-round draft choice in 1996.
–La Jolla tackle John Michels played four seasons in the NFL and was a No. 1 pick of the Green Bay Packers out of USC. Michels made the NFL all-rookie team but his career was cut short by knee injuries.
–Rashaan Salaam went on to the Colorado University and won the Heisman Trophy. He was a first-round selection of the Chicago Bears.
–Junior defensive tackle La’Roi Glover, who had 17.5 quarterback sacks, was a fifth-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders out of San Diego State, played 13 seasons, and made 6 Pro Bowls.
–Point Loma wideout J.J. Stokes was the 10th player selected in the first round out of UCLA to the San Francisco 49ers.
–Chula Vista ‘s Donnie Edwards was a standout at UCLA, drafted in the fourth round by Kansas City, and played 13 seasons with the Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.
–Markeith Ross of Rancho Buena Vista set a career rushing record of 4,486 yards and, like Rashaan Salaam, scored seven touchdowns in one game.
–Running back-linebacker Wayne Pittman of Mira Mesa probably was the best two-way player in the Section, his mind each day on his dad, who was deployed in the Gulf war.
NORTH COUNTY POWER
Want to be a high school coach and qualify for the postseason? Become a coach in the Avocado or Palomar leagues.
Twelve teams, six from each circuit, earned AAA or AA playoff berths. Vista, Torrey Pines, Fallbrook, Vista, Mt. Carmel, and Orange Glen were in the AAA bracket and San Marcos, Carlsbad, Ramona, Oceanside, El Camino, and Escondido were in the AA alignment.
Castle Park, which posted a 5-5 record, did not attend the seeding meeting, which eased the way for 5-5 Fallbrook.
PLAYING AND FILMING
He would become the head coach at Grossmont years later, but for now Tom Karlo was the Foothillers’ quarterback and an occasional sideline photo assistant at NFL games.
Karlo’s dad, Tom, Sr., was a sideline cameraman at NFL games for NFL Films..
THE PROPHET MEYER
After El Camino was shut out, 19-0, by Point Loma in the season opener, ending the Wildcats’ 12 game winning streak, Herb Meyer spoke:
“We’ve done this before and survived. It wasn’t as much as what they did as what we didn’t do. This isn’t the best Point Loma team I’ve seen, but they kicked our butts. We’ll put it behind us and move on.”
The Wildcats lost three of their next four, then ran the table with 9 straight wins to a 10-4 record and the Section AA title, 26-7 over Kearny.
Point Loma was beaten by Rancho Buena Vista, 27-12, in the playoff quarterfinals and finished with a 9-2 record.
In a season in which he played six eight-man and five 11-man games, La Jolla Country Day’s Rashaan set an 11-man record when he ran for seven touchdowns as the Torreys crushed Marian, 68-0.
Salaam didn’t play favorites. He scored seven more in a 65-37 repeat win over The Bishop’s in the eight-man championship.
For the season, Salaam had 51 touchdowns and eight, two-point conversions in 11 games for 322 points.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
A population of 2.2 million persons was predicted in San Diego County, up about 500,000 from 1980. The figure, released by the U.S. Census Bureau, represented a 22 per cent increase over the previous 10 years.
A SAFE HARBOR
St. Augustine, Coronado, Clairemont, Christian, and Marian joined forces as football-playing members of the AA Harbor League, which was created in 1989 with this season as the target date for football.
The move was Coronado’s sixth in 17 years. The Islanders were longtime members of the Metropolitan League before joining the short-lived Coast League in 1973. They bounced back to the Metropolitan ’77, moved to the South Bay in ’81, and, for the previoustwo seasons, was an independent.
The schools essentially were too large for 1A classification and too small for AAA.
QUICK KICKS—Southwest’s Riley Washington scored 23 touchdowns in 11 games but was more known for his record-setting, :10.3 100 meters in spring track and the state championship…Serra celebrated its first night game at the Tierrasanta school campus, then took a 28-6 loss to St. Augustine…University’s quarterback was Michael Henning, son of Chargers coach Dan Henning…Rancho Bernardo picked a difficult opponent for its inaugural game…the first-year Broncos lost to Orange County’s Rancho Santa Margarita, 27-0…Randy Walker stepped in at quarterback for Lincoln and led the Hornets to 4 wins in their final 5 regular-season games and into the playoffs after an 0-5 start, the Hornets’ poorest in school history…Lincoln was eliminated by La Jolla, 14-13…Vista coach Dick Haines stuck with Eric Jencks through an 0-5 start and Jencks guided the Panthers to 6 wins in a row including a playoff victory before a 48-14 loss to Morse….