By Fred J. Robledo Staff Writer
There’s no way of knowing for certain, because the CIF-Southern Section history books don’t keep track of such things, but few would argue that Diamond Ranch High School’s 1-6 start in back-to-back seasons and subsequent appearances in championship games probably is the first time a team has fallen five games below .500 in consecutive years and played for a title each time. After losing in last year’s Southeast Division championship to Charter Oak, the Panthers (7-6), winners of six consecutive games, get another shot at the defending champion Chargers (12-1) in Friday’s Southeast championship at Ayala High School at 7:30 p.m. To continue reading, click thread
Charter Oak defeated Diamond Ranch 12-0 en route to the Miramonte League title earlier in the year.
“You have to be mentally strong to do it,” Diamond Ranch coach Roddy Layton said of overcoming miserable starts. “The two people that catch the most criticism when you’re losing is your quarterback and head coach.
“During those losses, I’m an adult and I understand you will have people saying this or that. But when you’re 17 years old, how do you deal with people yelling and evaluating your performance?
“To be that young and fight through it is an intangible that you can’t teach or coach. You can give an emotional speech and get them ready, but that ability to believe in yourself and persevere has to come from the heart and soul.”
The person Layton is talking about is senior quarterback Gus Viramontes, who led the Panthers to come-from-behind victories in the second round and in the semifinals the same way he led the Panthers in consecutive come-from-behind seasons.
That’s why Layton couldn’t care less about Viramontes’ 14-13 record as a starter – he’s 6-1 in the playoffs.
“You don’t evaluate a quarterback with records or stats; tell me what he does in the big games,” Layton said. “Tell me what he does with the season on the line. That’s how you measure a quarterback.”
Viramontes is only 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, not exactly the prototypical QB frame.
“Does it matter really?” Layton said. “Can you finish a game in the fourth quarter after you have been hit 16 or 18 times? There are a lot of 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 quarterbacks, but can they deliver in the clutch? My guy has, time and time again.”
In the second round against Schurr, the Panthers trailed 27-25 when they got the ball back on their 1-yard line with 5:08 left.
Viramontes led them on a 99-yard drive, which included a clutch 40-yard pass to Elisha Henley and finished with a 4-yard touchdown run by Chase Price with 1:36 left for a 33-27 victory.
The Panthers trailed South Hills 14-0 less than six minutes into the semifinals, but Viramontes led them back by throwing for 213 yards and two touchdowns, including a key third-and-long conversion in the final minute that buried the Huskies for good.
“That’s the true measure of a quarterback, what he does in the latter part of the game or the season,” Layton said. “Gus has that leadership quality and desire to win.
“A lot of times through his play he creates more time in the pocket with his athletic ability. He’s diving for touchdowns or fighting for that extra yard. You can’t teach that; you either have that quality or you don’t.”
When the Panthers struggled early in the season, Viramontes thought about Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
“Gus is a huge Tebow fan,” Layton said. “When Tebow said last year, `We will never lose again and nobody will ever work harder than me,’ it moved Gus.”
So much so that when the Panthers struggled to another 1-6 start, Viramontes didn’t blast his teammates. He asked himself, “What would Tebow do?”
“I don’t know which loss it was, but without saying anything, I taped a message on the back of my practice jersey that said, `Push yourself,’ ” Viramontes said.
“For me, that meant whenever we ran sprints or did conditioning, I had to be in front and my teammates had to read it. Anyone that ran ahead of me, I just ran harder.”
That’s why Layton has such high praise for his quarterback.
“How do you measure that quality?” Layton said. “That’s the guy I want in my corner when things get rough. It’s not a desire to win, really, it’s his desire not to lose.”
That desire will take center stage again when the Panthers try to do something no team in the history of the school has done – beat Charter Oak.
“It would all come full circle, a storybook ending,” Viramontes said. “It’s hard not to think about, but I think we’re better prepared having been to the championship before.
“We will practice hard all week and see if we can get it done this time.”
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