McConnell: The best football teams in San Gabriel Valley history? It’s down to the Elite Eight

By Jim McConnell, Staff Writer
If there is one constant in high school football – then and now – it’s emotion. Talent is important, but momentum means a lot. In putting together a mythical All-Valley playoff it is, of course, impossible to incorporate all the intangibles. But history does tell us strange things can happen. And happen they did in the second round of the playoffs. Here’s how it went in this reporter’s minds-eye: Continue on for all the games

1992 Bishop Amat versus 1984 Claremont – An unusually effective passing game makes this a much tougher than expected win for 1992 Amat, regarded by many as THE team to beat in the playoffs. Claremont, led by quarterback Dan McGwire and the wide receiver duo of Lloyd Bailey and Travis Watkins, takes a 7-0 lead. It’s still anybody’s ballgame at halftime, tied 14-14, and after three quarters, with Amat clinging to a 21-17 lead. Finally the Lancers’ defense, led by tackle Willhans Ili, shuts down the Wolfpack. That allows Amat quarterback Mike Smith to lead his team on a 75-yard scoring drive that takes up much of the final quarter. Rodney Sermons caps the drive with a 7-yard touchdown dash.

FINAL: 1992 Bishop Amat 28, Claremont 17

1939 Alhambra versus 1970 Bishop Amat – A great running team going against a great passing team. The difference turns out to be size and speed. The 1939 Moors are 20 to 25 pounds heavier per man than the 1970 Amat squad. They also are quicker, and it shows on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

Running out of a variation of the old Notre Dame box, the Moors hand the ball to left halfback Johnny Petrovich, who breaks three tackles and then outruns the Amat secondary for a spectacular 81-yard touchdown. Alhambra makes it 12-0 in the second quarter. A 59-yard punt return by Petrovich gives the Moors great field position at the Amat 14. Petrovich runs it in from there on the next play. Amat quarterback Pat Haden starts to find the range late in the first half and hits John McKay Jr. on a 40-yard TD pass. It’s 12-7 Alhambra at the half. Petrovich bedevils the Lancers again in the third quarter. He catches Amat off-guard with a 45-yard pass to the Amat 10. Three plays later, Petrovich blasts into the end zone from the 1 and it’s 18-7. Haden returns the favor and hooks up with McKay on a textbook 60-yard pass and run play. Haden then passes for a 2-point conversion and it’s an 18-15 game. Haden strikes again early in the fourth quarter and caps a 65-yard drive with a quarterback sneak. Amat misses the PAT, but leads 21-18. Alhambra answers with a 77-yard drive, all on the ground. Petrovich sets up what proves to be the game-winning touchdown with a twisting, turning 24-yard run to the Amat 3. Two plays later, he’s back in the end zone (his fourth TD of the game) and the Moors regain the lead, 24-21. It ends that way, as Haden just misses on two long passes in the final minute.

FINAL: Alhambra 24, 1970 Bishop Amat 21

1951 Pomona versus 1996 Wilson – In another hotly contested second-round game, the difference turns out to be a left-handed lad from Pomona named Marty Keough. His final stat line includes a 44-yard average on six punts, two PAT kicks, 4-for-6 passing for 92 yards, 168 yards rushing on 20 carries, a fumble recovery and two pass interceptions. Wilson scores both touchdowns on long running plays in the first half, and successfully goes for two after each score. The Red Devils, down 16-6, catch fire in the third quarter and score twice to go ahead 20-16. Neither team can score in the final 12 minutes, although time runs out with Wilson inside the Pomona 10.

FINAL: Pomona 20, Wilson 16

1965 West Covina versus 1955 San Marino – A classic pairing of an offensive powerhouse (San Marino averaged nearly 40 points a game in going 13-0) and a defensive stalwart (West Covina shut out nine of its opponents in going 13-0). Which team prevails? In this case, it’s the defense. The Titans put together a 68-yard scoring march on their first possession. After that, they never make it back into West Covina’s side of the field. The Spartans are shut out in the first half but assemble two second-half scoring drives. Two late pass interceptions by Sandy Durko seal the win for coach Mal Eaton’s team.

FINAL: W. Covina 13, San Marino 7

1966 El Rancho versus 1984 Diamond Bar – For whatever reason, the great run of El Rancho teams produced by Ernie Johnson in the 1960s seems to be all but forgotten. But they were the real deal. In fact, this 1966 El Rancho squad finished the year not only unbeaten but ranked first in the nation in several polls. In the All-Valley playoff, they go against a multi-talented Diamond Bar team, and the game produces 12 touchdowns and five lead changes. El Rancho needs to put 42 points on the board to outlast the Brahmas. Kraig Washington has a 200-yard game rushing for Diamond Bar, but the relentless Dons’ offense can’t be denied the end zone on two fourth-quarter scoring drives.

FINAL: El Rancho 42, D. Bar 33

1942 Bonita versus 1969 Blair – There is a tendency to think the 1942 Bonita team had Glenn Davis and the 10 dwarfs, and the 1969 Blair squad had the Blair Pair and nine squares. In reality, both teams had talented rosters. However, it perhaps was too much of a good thing for coach Pete Yoder’s Vikings. More and more, the team relied almost exclusively on the running of Kermit Johnson and James McAlister. That pair also played defense, along with end Eugene Jones and lineman Forrie Martin. As great as Blair was, the team really had no kicking game. Against Bonita in our mythical playoff, that proves crucial. The game features no less than four kickoffs returned for touchdowns, two by Davis and two by McAlister. But it’s Davis’ passing (he completes 5 of 7 for 109 yards and two touchdowns) and kicking (he’s successful on all five PAT kicks) that make the difference. Despite more than 100 yards rushing by both Johnson and McAlister, Blair fails to convert three of five 2-point PATs and falls to the Bearcats.

FINAL: Bonita 35, Blair 34

1971 Bishop Amat versus 2000 Los Altos – This one’s a battle of defenses. Amat quarterback John Sciarra completes only 4 of 9 passes for 44 yards, but he nets more than 100 yards rushing, and scores both Lancers touchdowns while successfully eluding Los Altos’ murderous pass rush. Coach Dennis McLaughlin’s underrated defense (it allowed only 12 touchdowns in 12 games) stops the Conquerors. With Los Altos driving late in the game, Amat middle linebacker Larry Lewenthal breaks through on a blitz to sack quarterback Felipe Aguilar for a 10-yard loss. Los Altos misses a long field goal on the game’s final play.

FINAL: 1971 Bishop Amat 14, Los Altos 13

1972 St. Paul versus 1986 Muir – Ricky Ervins returns the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and the Mustangs never trail, although St. Paul keeps the pressure on all night. A 10-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper by Vince Phillips produces the game-winning touchdown and puts Muir ahead 28-14. In the final five minutes, however, St. Paul scores a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone and a forces a safety before the Mustangs run out the clock.

FINAL: Muir 28, St. Paul 23


1939 Alhambra versus 1992 Bishop Amat

1951 Pomona versus 1965 West Covina

1942 Bonita versus 1966 El Rancho

1971 Bishop Amat versus 1986 Muir

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