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SCV High School Football Kicks it Up a Notch
January, 2007 - Issue #27
Coach Harry Welch
Coach Harry Welch
When you look back on the 2006 SCV high school football season, what will you remember?

Doubtless, the answer to that question depends on which team is your favorite.

Will you recall Saugus' historic 36-21 win over Valencia - the one that put the Centurions in position to finally crack the Foothill League top three? Or perhaps it will be the Cents' upset of number four-seeded Atascadero in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs.

Will you remember Hart's remarkable 27-14 upset of number one-seeded St. Bonaventure of Ventura in the quarterfinals of the playoffs? Or maybe you'll remember Hart's from-the-jaws-of-defeat escape against Valencia on October 27, a game that included an improbable fourth-and-forever, tipped-pass conversion in Hart's final, game-winning drive.

Golden Valley fans may not want to remember much of their team's 0-10 season, a season that ended with four straight shutouts. And Viking fans may likewise want to forget the disappointment of their team's 2-8 season.

West Ranch fans, on the other hand, will be talking about their team's 7-3 entree into the world of varsity football for a long time.

Then, of course, there is Canyon.

The Cowboys posted one of the most successful seasons in school history in 2006, racking up nine consecutive wins on their way to the CIF title game against Moorpark on December 9 (for the results of that game, log onto www.insidescv.com).

For the last six games of that winning streak, Canyon posted one blowout after another, outscoring opponents 375-48, with an average margin of victory of 54.5 points.

And half of those six games came in the playoffs, where the competition was supposed to be tougher.

But that's not to say the ride to the finals was entirely smooth.

At one point in the season, Canyon's record stood at 1-2. And even though those two setbacks came in narrow losses to powerhouses Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks and St. Bonaventure, they took a bit of early luster off of a defending section champion looking to reestablish itself in 2007.

After just three weeks into the season, Canyon was already facing speculation, from the outside at least.

But that was just part of the fun for local football devotees. It was just another angle in the drama that was Santa Clarita football in 2006.

And there was plenty of drama...

For Saugus, the drama of 2006 reached a crescendo on November 17, when the Cents traveled some 300 miles to face a heavily-favored Atascadero team in the first round of the playoffs.

Saugus hadn't won a playoff game since 1999, and almost no one expected the streak to come to an end that night, not after the Cents' back-to-back blowout losses to Canyon and Hart in their previous two games.

"We lost to Hart the night we lost to Canyon," is how Saugus head coach Jason Bornn explains the way the regular season ended. "We were as mentally and physically prepared for the Canyon game as we could have been. We came into it expecting to win."

Few people remember that the score was 14-7, Canyon, at halftime. Saugus was close.

But Canyon erupted after the break and raced to a 42-7 win.

J.J. DiLuigi
J.J. DiLuigi
Ben Longshore
Ben Longshore
Ben Armbruster
Ben Armbruster

After that, said Bornn, his team went into a shell. Hart took advantage a week later with a 37-13 win that wasn't even as close as the score indicates.

Bornn and his players were disgusted after the loss.

"I told the guys that if they aren't ready to practice hard next week they don't need to bother showing up," Bornn said after the game.

But Bornn's team, unfulfilled by the way the Foothill League season ended, had something to prove. And they proved it at the expense of Atascadero.

Up to that point, none of Saugus' wins had come against winning teams. On the other hand, each of its losses came at the hands of a dominant opponent: Hart (CIF-SS playoff semifinalist), Westlake (CIF-SS playoff semifinalist), Canyon (CIF-SS playoff finalist), St. Francis of La Canada (ranked number one in its section at the time) and Notre Dame (finished the regular season ranked number one in the CIF's Pac-Five Division).

For Saugus, the 34-27 win over Atascadero cemented a solid season. It legitimized an emergence Bornn hoped for and worked toward all summer and only realized when the season was done.

"It wasn't until after the fact that I was able to reflect on the season," Bornn said. "That's when I was able to say, 'Wow, we has a pretty good group of kids.'"

Hart's season was even more dramatic than what took place at Saugus.

Those unfamiliar with Hart football might call it a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde season. But Indian followers know better.

Hart's M.O. of late has been to front-load the schedule with tough teams to get ready for league. The Indians may struggle at first, but coach Mike Herrington's plan is simple. It's better to play well at the end of the season than at the beginning.

But even with that in mind, the start of the 2006 Hart football season may have tested the mettle of the Hart faithful. Losing close games to great teams early is one thing. Starting the year with the worst loss in a coach's history is another.

Hart opened 2006 with a 34-0 debacle at St. Bonaventure, and then followed that with a 42-24 thumping at the hands of Moorpark.

Two weeks after that, Hart was 1-3 following a 28-27 loss to Westlake.

"We have to be more physical on defense," Herrington said at the time.

Hart climbed back to even heading into its showdown with Canyon on October 13. The contest at College of the Canyons kicked off the Foothill League, but with Valencia having a down year, some were calling it the league title game (none were Saugus fans).

Canyon prevailed 41-25, but don't be fooled by the score. Hart trailed by just 27-25 with a minute to go. And two minutes before that, the Indians had missed a field goal that would have given them the lead.

"It was after the Canyon game that we knew we could play at a high level," Herrington said. "That's when the guys realized they could compete with anyone."

And compete they did.

The Indians ripped off five straight wins after the Canyon loss, the biggest of which was the shocker against St. Bonaventure.

Moorpark ended Hart's run a week later in the CIF semifinals, however, spoiling a second straight Hart-Canyon CIF title game.

"We got better every game until this one," Herrington said of the loss to Moorpark. "We just took a huge step backwards."

Canyon's ascent to excellence started early and lasted long.

The Cowboys opened with a 33-14 win over Moopark in what turned out to be a CIF championship game preview.

An 18-17 loss to Notre Dame followed by a 21-14 loss to St. Bonaventure threatened to end all talk of a possible Canyon appearance in the first-ever state title game, however.

But head coach Harry Welch insisted no such talk existed anyway, at least not from anyone wearing green and gold.

"We're not thinking about anything like that," he said early in the season. "We're just trying to compete in this valley. We're just trying to win next week."

Winning next week became an almost inevitable occurrence in the two months that followed the Bonnie loss.

Minus the stiff fight it got from Hart in October, Canyon, on the legs of senior running back J.J. DiLuigi, ran everyone else off the field.

Heading into the rematch with Moorpark, the Brigham Young-bound DiLuigi had rushed for 1,927 yards on 223 carries, an average of 8.6 yards per carry, and scored 36 touchdowns.

Ben Longshore, in his first season at starting quarterback for Canyon, matured steadily throughout the year, tallying 2,367 passing yards and 21 passing touchdowns leading up to the CIF championship.

"Ben really became a leader for us," Welch said.

Another key for Canyon all year was its defense.

Dillon Schelske led the Cowboys in sacks, and linebackers Blake McMartin, Mike Spagnola and Nick Jurado routinely punished opponents who ventured into their respective parts of the field.

How tough was it to score on Canyon?

Through their first 12 games, the Cowboys held the opposition to a total of 193 points, a 16 points-per-game average.

With DiLuigi turned loose behind an offensive line of Nick Peterson, Marc Valdez, Michael Blanco, Nate Mestizo, A.J. Wallerstein and Justin Wallace, 16 points was never enough to beat Canyon.

Most nights, the Cowboys seemed to be playing high school football on an entirely different level than the competition. The question was seldom if Canyon would win, but by how much.

Speculation, if there was any, was over how many quarters DiLuigi would play before taking his customary seat on the Cowboy bench once the game was out of reach.

The team made winning look easy.

"We wanted to prove that last year wasn't a fluke," DiLuigi said about his team's approach to the 2006 season.

They did. Over and over.

Just ask any of the teams they beat.

You can take your pick among many.
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