WESTMINSTER — Before the start of Monday’s 33rd CIF-Southern Section Football press conference and luncheon, two foes met to discuss specifics.
Near the corner of the Rose Center’s ballroom, Rosemead High School football coach Matt Koffler sat with his contingent as they listened to Paraclete coach Norm Dahlia talk about the best way to get to Knight High School, home of Saturday’s CIF-SS Mid-Valley Division championship game.
Among other things, Dahlia suggested restaurants Koffler and the Panthers could eat before — and possibly after — the game, slated for 7:30 p.m., in Palmdale.
One factor Koffler couldn’t get over was the fact frigid temperatures are expected Saturday night. In an effort to anticipate the cold temperatures in December, the Panthers have practiced at night the last three weeks, but perhaps nothing will prepare them for the high 20’s and low 30’s temperatures come game night.
When asked if he’d consider taking the team to Palmdale for one walk-through to get a feel for the environment, Koffler noted it wasn’t entirely his decision.
“That would be at our principal’s (discretion),” he said. “I think we should get some thermos donated from our ASB (Associated Student Body) office over there.
“I’m trying to make it the best experience our kids can have, but I think the school should purchase us some thermos, some gloves, some jackets and a room to stay.”
Koffler, of course, was joking about the school purchasing a room for Rosemead to stay in Palmdale on Friday night.
“Our kids don’t have the good stuff everybody else has. We don’t buy them jackets. They’re so expensive I guess our school can’t afford some of that stuff.
“I think the school should give us some thermos to go up there and some gloves.”
The idea of spending the night in Palmdale with the team to acclimate to the weather is enticing to Koffler, but it’s not that easy to accommodate.
“I’m all for it,” he said. “But according to some people there’s the budgets and money. I’m all for leaving Friday and staying up there until Saturday but every time we talk about money there’s no money; that’s what it comes down to.”
Each team headed to this weekend’s championship game was treated to an all-you-can-eat feast with dessert in an elegant facility in Orange County.
It was a surreal experience but the goal was always to get there.
Rio Hondo Prep coach Ken Drain has had his share of luncheons. He last attended in 2005, the year the Kares won their last CIF-SS championship.
“Only this time it’s at a different facility,” joked Drain.
For Rosemead, it was the first finals appearance in school history and one that Koffler likely won’t forget. He played for the Panthers in the 90’s and at a tender age of 24 became one of the youngest football coaches to coach varsity.
“We knew we had a good chance to be here,” Koffler said. “I think it’s good for the community, it’s good for the school and good for the kids.
“Hopefully the community can go up (to Palmdale) and watch the game.”
The Panthers finished 7-4 overall and finished third in the Mission Valley League before a first-round ouster in last season’s playoffs.
It took a while to build the program and after overcoming some obstacles, Koffler has put Rosemead on the map.
“We’re not a school that produces a ton of athletes,” Koffler said. “We’re a school that has about 60 kids in the whole program. It’s a privilege for us to be here.
“We’re not know as a team in the San Gabriel Valley to play big time football. We’re certainly not the Bishop Amats or the Charter Oaks or the South Hills. We’re just a little school that’s stuck in the middle that plays hard-nose football.”
There was a different feel, an optimistic feel before the season ever got underway.
“My players would walk around and tell me, ‘Hey coach, I think we’re going to be really good this year,” Koffler recalled. “I think psychologically for the kids and the coaches they knew they were going to be good. When you know you’re going to be good you work a little bit harder.
“They knew that if they worked hard they’d be in this situation.”
When asked if there was a particular player who may have added a different dimension to the team’s dynamic, Koffler said there wasn’t but added that aside from everyone playing to their potential there has been one pleasant surprise.
“The real surprise is how they’re able to stay focused and stay hungry every week,” he said.
READY TO GO
In last week’s semifinal, Rio Hondo Prep’s Tim Esguerra suffered a head injury early in the second quarter.
It was learned that Esguerra had suffered a mild concussion and did not play the rest of the game.
Senior running back Antonio Alanis immediately took over the load and finished with 271 yards rushing to lead the Kares to a 28-21 win over Linfield Christian.
But perhaps the unsung heroes of the night were quarterback Chris Llamas and Charles Quintero.
All season long, Rio Hondo Prep has relied on the run and the bulk of its scoring have come on rushes.
But the Kares last week scored all of their touchdown on precise passing from Llamas for three touchdowns to Alanis.
Charles Quintero stepped in to fill the No. 2 spot in the running back depth chart and though his name did not appear in these pages last week, it was Quintero’s long run with the clock winding down that allowed the Kares to record a key first down to later take a knee and run the clock out.