McConnell’s mythical champion: 1966 El Rancho beats 1992 Bishop Amat to claim the title of best team in San Gabriel Valley history

Jim McConnell, Staff Writer
It’s down to the Final Four in our mythical All-Valley football playoffs. The four survivors – 1992 Bishop Amat, 1971 Bishop Amat, 1966 El Rancho and 1965 West Covina – have two things in common: outstanding coaches and rock-solid defenses. Oh yes, they also finished their seasons undefeated. Here we go with the semifinals: click thread to continue

Wow, we found video of El Rancho’s 1966 team

1992 Bishop Amat vs. 1965 West Covina
Defense definitely is the key here. The 1992 Amat team, in going 15-0, outscored opponents 408-107. West Covina, in going 13-0, shut out nine of those opponents.
And thus it is, as the Lancers and Spartans battle through a scoreless first half. Amat launches a drive to start the second half, but it ends when West Covina’s Sandy Durko intercepts Mike Smith in the end zone. After that, it becomes a battle for field position. The more balanced Amat offense ultimately wins that battle.

The Lancers assemble a 12-play, 60-yard drive that eats up six minutes late in the third quarter. From a first-and-goal at the West Covina 4, it takes Amat all four downs to finally punch it in, on a 1-yard dive by Rodney Sermons.

That touchdown and extra point stand up as the game’s only points.

FINAL SCORE: 1992 Bishop Amat 7, West Covina 0

1971 Bishop Amat vs. 1966 El Rancho

This game also turns out to be a defensive struggle.

El Rancho scores first on a 13-play, 70-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Dennis Morrison
does the scoring honors and scores from 5 yards out on a rollout.

Amat, which is held to two first downs in the first half, gets moving early in the third quarter. John Sciarra returns a punt 30 yards into El Rancho territory. From there, he engineers a 47-yard scoring drive. Jose Aguirre’s extra point ties the game at 7.

It’s still 7-7 early in the fourth quarter. El Rancho. using short passes and running away from the strong middle of the Amat defense, puts together a 79-yard march that takes 17 plays and more than seven minutes.

Once again, Morrison does the scoring honors, this time on a 1-yard run.

Amat’s last hurrah ends when the Lancers turn the ball over on downs at the El Rancho 23.

FINAL SCORE: El Rancho 14, 1971 Bishop Amat 7


1992 Bishop Amat vs. 1966 El Rancho

The Dons take the opening kickoff and methodically march 75 yards to the end zone to take a 7-0 lead.

Amat struggles on offense until late in the first half, when Smith hooks up with Daylon McCutcheon on a 63-yard pass-and-run play. McCutcheon finally is tackled inside the Dons’ 5. Sermons scores on the next play to tie the game.

Early in the third quarter, El Rancho once again goes on the attack. This time, a 77-yard drive, in 16 plays, is capped with Morrison scoring from the 2. The Dons miss the extra point and leaves them ahead 13-7.

Amat’s next possession ends when Smith is intercepted in the end zone on the final play of an exciting third quarter.

El Rancho then runs six minutes off the clock before Amat finally halts the drive at its own 16. The Dons clearly are winning the battle at the line of scrimmage.

The Lancers advance to the El Rancho 38, but Smith is sacked for a 10-yard loss on third and six and Sermons is stopped after a 12-yard gain on fourth down.

From there, the Dons run out the clock, the game ending with El Rancho at the Amat 20.

FINAL SCORE: 1966 El Rancho 13, 1992 Bishop Amat 7

An upset? Let’s see.

The 1966 El Rancho team, in going 13-0, outscored the opposition 516-68. The Dons shut out six opponents, and the only team to get close to them was Blair, which lost 7-0 in the CIF-SS 4A Division quarterfinals.

The Dons were coached by Ernie Johnson, a former all-conference halfback at UCLA and the Bruins’ Most Valuable Player in 1948 and 1949.

Johnson’s El Rancho teams went 96-17-5 in the 1960s, the most wins of any team in the state during that decade. Prior to 1966, they twice reached the CIF-SS Large Schools championship game (1961 and 1963) only to fall short. The 1963 team featured future USC starters in wide receiver Ron Drake and fullback Dan Scott, along with linebacker Tom Egan, who passed up several full-ride football offers to sign a six-figure bonus contract with the Angels.

That team went into the CIF title game favored over Loyola, but Loyola beat the Dons, 21-0.

The 1965 team was unbeaten entering the playoffs, but was upset in the second round by Centennial.

Those were tough lessons learned for Johnson, who never let his 1966 team overlook any opponent. The Dons went 7-0 in the San Gabriel Valley League and scored 350 points while allowing only 27. When the 22-man all-league team was announced, 17 of the players were Dons.

In the playoffs, El Rancho beat Pius X, 39-7, Blair, 7-0, Lakewood, 33-14, and Anaheim, 35-14. The Dons finished the year ranked first in the state and also were No. 1 on several national polls.

Morrison went on to play at Kansas State and briefly in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. Linemen Greg Pearman (UCLA), Jim Amador (Utah State), Jeff Jorgensen (Utah State), Jan Juric (Cal Poly SLO) and Tom Burnett (San Diego State) all played major college football.

It was, in many ways, the perfect team. The Dons never trailed in a game that season, and rarely played their first string after the first half.

More than 40 years later, the legacy of “The Ranch” still lives.

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2306

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