Did you like the three-part series? What was your take on it?
Editor’s Note: Star-News reporter Miguel Melendez looks back at Monrovia High School’s misfortunes in its last eight CIF football final appearances. This is the third in a three-part series.
By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
Sure, Monrovia High School is an unimpressive 0 for 8 in CIF football final appearances, but that glaring statistic will be irrelevant when the top-seeded Wildcats (13-0) play No. 2 seed San Dimas (12-1) on Saturday night at 7:30 in the CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division championship game at Citrus College.
Monrovia head coach Ryan Maddox, in his second season at the helm, led the Wildcats to the semifinals last year, and with the spotlight shining bright on Monrovia – making its ninth finals appearance – it’s easy to see where Maddox stands regarding the infamous record.
“We’re focused on the present,” he said emphatically. “The players didn’t go to school when Monrovia lost. They’re focused on what they can control, and that’s this Saturday.”
Nevertheless, the Wildcats’ 0-for-8 finals record is part of their rich history. They lost in 1935 (Major Division), 1951 (Major Division), 1959 (AAA Division), 1973 (AAA Division), 1982 (Northwestern Division), 1997 (Division X), 1998 (Division X) and 1999 (Division X).
Randy Bell was Monrovia’s quarterback his senior year in 1980, and two years later Monrovia made its fifth appearance. Bell, in his 15th year at the school currently serving as athletic director and offensive coordinator, said each game is different.
“All those games are individual games in themselves,” he said. “You can remember things that went on and the mistakes that were made, but there’s no failure or stigma. It doesn’t make sense to me that we’ll buy into that.
“If we lose Saturday, it’s not because there’s a mysterious force, and if we win, it’s not because it was time that we won. It’ll be because the game played out the way the teams made it play out.”
“It’s hard to argue against it,” Bell added. “Oh for 8 is an unimpressive record, but you have to believe it’s a game-by-game deal.
“They’re all relatively spread out, with the exception of the three (finals) in the late ’90s.”
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Steve Garrison was Monrovia’s football coach for 15 seasons and led the Wildcats to back-to-back-to-back finals against powerhouses Mira Costa (1997) and Paso Robles (1998, 1999). He stepped down in 2007. Two years later, the Wildcats are back in the finals.
“That first year against Mira Costa was so difficult,” Garrison recalled. “We weren’t going to win that game. We were out-horsed. The second year, when we went up to Paso Robles, we dropped two passes in the end zone for touchdowns and lost 24-22.
“When you’re a coach or a fan, hindsight is always much clearer. It’s always 20-20. I don’t regret any direction we took as a coaching staff. If I could do it all over again, I’d do it the same.”
That isn’t to say Garrison doesn’t reflect back.
“That’s the competitive side of any coach,” he said. “Any coach is going to wonder `What if?’ but that’s the competitive nature to anybody that coaches or plays this game.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think `What if?’ but the point is, on any given championship night there are two teams on the field. Whether they belong there or belong up a level doesn’t make a difference.”
Monrovia finished the 1998 season 13-1, the lone loss coming to Paso Robles in the final.
“One stinking game,” Garrison said, “and that was the one that counted. To sit there and say you’d change anything after going 13-0 … that’s exactly (the game plan) I would have stayed with. If the ball bounces a little differently, the Wildcats win the championship, but that’s neither here nor there.”
In some way, however, three consecutive defeats in the finals affected Garrison, who still teaches at Monrovia and remains an avid Wildcats fan despite his new allegiance as an assistant football coach at Damien.
“What I started to realize is this is the business of coaching,” he said. “As you look back on it, at the time and in the moment, there’s some hurt feelings. The kids, coaches and everybody involved worked so hard to get there. But I think as you get older you can reflect on some of it and say we accomplished quite a bit to be in those games compared to when I started at Monrovia.”
The preparation, commitment and determination remains the same, no matter the level of division. Garrison knows that too well.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “Right now if I was head coach, it’d be just as hard. I don’t know that you’re planning is any different than when we were in (Division X) or the Mid-Valley Division.
“Your preparation for the game is just as difficult, just as taxing. It’s the same whether you’re getting ready to play in Division 1 or Division 13.”
Monrovia is the only school in Southern Section history to have advanced to eight finals without bringing home a CIF championship. They’ve drawn comparisons to the Buffalo Bills, who lost four consecutive Super Bowls.
“You can draw just about any conclusion when you’re 0 for 8,” Garrison said. “You can go on forever and have all kinds of laughs about that. The fortunate thing is that it’s all correctable this Saturday.
“That’s what’s exciting about it and more important right now. Rather than getting caught up on what has been and what could have been, is what can be.”
The distinction of losing eight finals is not something that affects Maddox, but don’t think he doesn’t care. He’s fully aware of the ramifications and what winning the elusive championship means to the Wildcats’ history.
Maddox wrote as much in a text message sent to Monrovia supporters just days before the finale.
“We are excited about the opportunity to do this for all the great teams who have come before us.”
They say history belongs to those who write it, and so far Monrovia’s authored a dream of a season. But still missing is the final chapter.
So, is this the year?
“I think this Saturday’s probably as close Monrovia is to bringing home a title,” Garrison said.
“But my heart’s with the Wildcats and that’s a one-sided prediction. I just wish coach Maddox the best, and I’ll be right there cheering for him.”