Since winning it all in 1922, San Diego High had made unsuccessful playoff attempts in 1925, ’33, ’45, ’46, ’47, ’48, ’50, ’53, and ’54, and they were positioned again to make another run at a Southern Section championship.
Coach Duane Maley whistled the start of September drills with all hands on deck, except one.
Cavers coach Duane Maley relied on no one more than end-linebacker Deron Johnson (left) and quarterback Pete Gumina.
Starting quarterback Pete Gumina was absent, away fishing on his father’s bait fishing vessel, approximately 150 miles Southwest of where the Cavemen were exercising on the upper practice field.
Gumina’s summer job was to help his dad bring home enough fish to support the family and put food on dining room table.
When Gumina turned out for practice a few days later the senior signals caller was surprised and puzzled that he was running behind No. 2 quarterback Edward Heard.
Apparently Maley thought Gumina had been ducking those hot, late-summer drills.
Pete waited a few years, about 30 actually, before finally asking Maley why he had been temporarily demoted.
“Duane laughed,” remembered the quarterback. “He told me that he thought I was out sports fishing and enjoying myself.”
A first-generation American who grew up near the Italian enclave on India Street, Gumina was Maley’s steady hand at the wheel, leading this talented, multi-cultural group to the mountain top.
While Gumina was at sea, Willie West (top) and Johnson cooled out.
Pete had lots of help, from all-America end-linebacker-punter Deron Johnson; from Willie West, a brilliant runner who played several years in the American Football League; from David Grayson, a member of the 10-year, all-time AFL squad;
From Alden Kimbrough, Ron Collins, Cleveland (Smiley) Jones, Eldridge Cooks, Steve Allen, Jerry Ybarra, Ollie Osborne, Mike Rustich, Gary Becker, Luther Hayes, Don Bransford, and a flock of others.
SEPT. 23, FOOTBALL CARNIVAL
Willie West pulled it out for the West.
The squads from San Diego, Point Loma, and La Jolla defeated Hoover, Lincoln, and Kearny, 13-12, before 16,000 Balboa Stadium fans who waited in anticipation on a slow-starting San Diego team in the game’s fourth and final, 15-minute exhibition (Point Loma played two quarters).
West fumbled on San Diego’s 34-yard line, but Hoover gave up the ball on the Cavers’ 15. Three plays later a Gumina interception allowed Hoover another chance. The Cardinals surrendered the ball again on the Hillers’ 25.
Steve Allen ran 5 yards to the 30.
Lightning struck on the next play.
West, according to Jim Trinkle in The San Diego Union, “bolted over right guard, found himself unopposed by the time he was at the 50, and easily outdistanced the defenders.”
West’s 70-yard touchdown was followed by Gumina’s PAT and the West’s winning points.
SEPT. 30, SAN DIEGO 18, LYNWOOD 6
COMPTON—The host Knights had a 13-4 advantage in first downs at Ramsaur Stadium on the Compton High campus but didn’t get past San Diego’s 20 after taking a 6-0, first-quarter lead.
Pete Gumina passed 25 yards to Deron Johnson, who covered the final 15 for a 40-yard touchdown play that made for a 6-6 halftime score.
Johnson intercepted a pass by Stanford-bound Dick Norman and ran 25 yards for another touchdown.
With time running out, a Lynwood drive expired on the Cavers’ 28 and Steve Allen closed out the scoring with a 72-yard run on the next play.
OCT. 6, SAN DIEGO 19, LINCOLN 0
Lincoln, in its second varsity season, featuring backfield speed equal to San Diego’s and boasting a sharp passer in Bob Mendoza, was expected to contend.
The Hornets kept it close for three quarters, but finished the night with minus 10 yards rushing and 54 passing.
San Diego rushed for 242 yards and had a 15-3 advantage in first downs as West and David Grayson scored on short plunges and Deron Johnson returned an intercepted pass 48 yards for another score.
Although contested in Balboa Stadium, Lincoln was the “home” team.
Deron Johnson got behind Point Loma’s Steve Aldridge and made fingertip catch for touchdown.
OCT. 14, SAN DIEGO 42, POINT LOMA 0
The Hillers, as they also were known, began to separate from the pack.
Pete Gumina completed 13 of 17 passes for 189 yards and 4 touchdowns, kicked 6 points after, and led a 423-yard attack that reduced Point Loma to rubble.
Deron Johnson was on the receiving end of two of Gumina’s scoring passes, Steve Allen, and Luther Hayes, one each.
The Pointers had 61 yards in total offense and never advanced beyond San Diego’s 46-yard line.
OCT. 21, SAN DIEGO 42, KEARNY 0
The Cavers seemingly let Kearny do as it pleased, between the 20-yard lines.
The Komets, playing hosts at Hoover, had an edge in first downs, 13-12, but the game wasn’t close, highlighted by a 51-yard touchdown pass play from Pete Gumina to Alden Kimbrough to Deron Johnson.
Kimbrough accepted Gumina’s six-yard aerial, then slipped the ball into the trailing Johnson’s stomach and took off, Komets defenders in pursuit of Kimbrough. Johnson raced the remaining 45 yards untouched.
OCT. 28, SAN DIEGO 27, HOOVER 6
A Deron Johnson punt traveled 76 yards and the big end caught two of Pete Gumina’s three touchdown passes.
Hoover defenders Carl Lorenz (top) and Ralph Mann struggle to bring down Hillers’ Cleveland (Smiley) Jones.
Hoover was the first City Prep League team to score on San Diego and a Cardinals assailant actually bit Johnson amid a pile of bodies near the line of scrimmage.
NOV. 4, SAN DIEGO 53, MISSION BAY 0
Don King wrote in Caver Conquest that an assistant Mission Bay coach signaled from the sideline when the Buccaneers should put the ball in play on offense.
The coach was equipped with a stopwatch to avoid delay-of-game penalties.
The tactic by Mission Bay coach Harry Anderson was supposed to help the Bucs keep the score down.
NOV. 11, SAN DIEGO 27, SANTA BARBARA 13
Kimbrough caught touchdown pass from Gumina at Santa Barbara.
PEABODY STADIUM—The Cavers hadn’t been to this venue since a 27-0 victory over the Dons in the semifinals of the 1933 playoffs.
Santa Barbara High was one of the few schools in California older than San Diego High, having opened in 1875 to their younger rival’s 1882.
The Hillers led, 21-0, after three quarters and gave up a touchdown on a 30-yard fumble return and 35-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
The Dons could boast that their 13 points were more than the 12 managed by San Diego’s first six opponents.
The Cavers got on the board in second quarter, when Pete Gumina passed 30 yards to Alden Kimbrough and Don Bransford ran 18 yards for a 14-0 halftime lead.
West joined Deron Johnson and Pete Gumina on all-Southern Section first team, with Alden Kimbrough on third team.
NOV. 18, SAN DIEGO 57, LA JOLLA 0.
San Diego closed the regular season having outscored CPL opponents, 250-6 en route to a 6-0 league record.
Willie West and Cleveland Jones scored two touchdowns each. Deron Johnson and Gumina hooked up on a 47-yard touchdown pass play, and four other Cavers scored.
NOV. 25, SAN DIEGO 26, CHULA VISTA 0
San Diego marched 80 and 98 yards to touchdowns on its first two possessions, led, 19-0, at the half and finished the scoring with a touchdown on the first series of the third quarter.
Chula Vista lost for the first time in 20 games in coach Chet DeVore’s final game. Cleveland Jones helped expedite DeVore’s departure with a brilliant, 65-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
The first-round playoff victory at Aztec Bowl moved the Cavers into the quarterfinals.
DEC. 2, SAN DIEGO 26, BELLFLOWER 6.
There was no coin flip to determine the playing site. Bellflower was not unhappy with a rare nonleague travel date to Balboa Stadium.
Assistant coach Birt Slater went over Bellflower game plan with defenders Mike Rustich (center) and George Stebbins.
The San Gabriel League, of which the Buccaneers were members, had a quirky rule against travel during the regular season.
Bellflower, an 8-1 team with a single-wing offense, took a first-quarter, 6-0 lead and San Diego did not score until 2:40 remained in the second quarter.
Willie West rushed for 106 yards, received for 57 yards, returned two intercepted passes 44 yards, and scored two touchdowns.
Gumina passed for three touchdowns and Kimbrough and Johnson collaborated again.
On fourth down from the 10-yard line, Gumina lobbed a short pass to Johnson over the middle. Johnson lateraled to his teammate at the 5 and Kimbrough crossed the goal.
Fourteen seconds remained after Gumina’s PAT.
The Cavers were in the semifinals for the first time since 1947.
Dec. 9, SAN DIEGO 20, ANAHEIM 20
(Link to 1955: Cavers in Epic Struggle
Dec. 16, SAN DIEGO 26, ALHAMBRA 14
The game came down to one play.
San Diego, leading, 19-7, in the fourth quarter, gave up an Alhambra touchdown and then found itself in a fourth-and-23 situation on its 34- yard line with less than 5 minutes remaining.
Maley was surrounded by jubilant players, including Jerry Ybarra (left), Don Bransford (bottom), and Steve Allen (right).
Momentum had swung to the visitors in Aztec Bowl, where 8,500 largely San Diego patrons stirred nervously in their seats.
Back to punt, Deron Johnson fielded a high snap and was forced to retreat to his 20. As he scrambled toward the Moors’ side of the field, Johnson shouted, “Kimbrough!”
Johnson could be heard high above the field in the press box and Alden Kimbrough, running downfield to cover the punt, turned and caught Johnson’s 33-yard pass at the Moors’ 45.
Kimbrough was brought down on the Alhambra 39 for an official gain of 27 yards and game-saving first down. The play actually covered 39 yards.
The Hillers’ Eldridge Cooks punched in the clinching touchdown from the 2. San Diego, led by Willie West’s 148 yards in 27 carries, dominated with 424 yards to Alhambra’s 229.
Cleveland Jones abetted West with 42 yards in eight carries. Eldridge Cooks added 34 in 4, Steve Allen 30 in eight, Don Bransford 29 in 3, and David Grayson 18 in 3.
The Cavers’ defense held the Moors to three first downs and 15 yards rushing, but Alhambra scored on a 76- and 6-yard pass plays from Jerry Cooper to Duane Allen.
WHERE AND WHEN?
The week started with contretemps similar to the cat-and-mouse game between San Diego and Anaheim the previous week.
CIF commissioner Ken Fagans on Tuesday morning honored a San Diego request to play the game Friday night at San Diego State’s Aztec Bowl.
Photographer Charles Aqua Viva covered the action as Willie West scored third quarter touchdown (1), Deron Johnson was tackled by Don Bevilaqua and Tony Longo (2), Don Bransford ran for seven yards (3) and Mrs. Pauline Gumina congratulated son Pete, as Deron Johnson looked on (4).
A Saturday afternoon game in Balboa Stadium was not possible, because the fourth-annual Poinsettia Bowl military game had been booked earlier at that site.
Alhambra principal Gilbert Strother did not like playing Friday evening.
“We are not trying to pull a fast one, but all championship games except one in my memory have been played on Saturday afternoons,” said Strother.
“We would have sent four, five-thousand down for a Saturday game. I predict we won’t have more than 600 there on Friday night.”
101 BAD ROAD
Strother contended that many parents would not let their children make the trip “because that highway is too dangerous.”
The principal argued the risk of high school students driving on the Coast Highway at “one or two o’clock” in the morning with possible fog.
Highway 101 was principal’s concern.
U.S. 101 had long stretches of precarious, three-lane pavement between Oceanside and San Clemente.
The 8,500 attendance was low and the CIF announced before the game that the San Diego venue would serve as “a test”. In most cases future championship games would be in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
The title game returned to Aztec Bowl two years later, when San Diego met Downey.
The Alhambra-San Diego contest also competed against the County-wide Kiwanis basketball tournament.
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