Posted on | September 8, 2012 | 1 Comment
SANTA FE SPRINGS, September 7, 2012—Back in the day, before Mater Dei and Servite became masters of the CIF Southern Section football universe, there was the St. Paul Swordsmen. Their prowess was legendary, their buzzed heads awe inspiring, and they won a lot of football games (188-37-6 under coach Marijon Ancich from 1961-1981). Their helmets alone—with broad-sword emblem running vertically back-to-front—inspired Friday night fear across the Southland.
But all good things must come to an end, and winning seasons for the Swordsmen departed with coach Ancich in ’81. Tonight, inside three-quarter-full Cranham Stadium (100% full on the La Habra side), it was hard to imagine the 10,000-plus SRO crowds of the Ancich era. But on this muggy night, the ghosts of ’81 descended on “The Pit” and, along with the Swordsmen of 2012, rose-up-as-one to spook the visiting La Habra Highlanders.
Just minutes into the opening period, the Swordsmen blocked a Clan punt deep in Highlander territory, recovered the ball and ran it in for a 6-0 lead. After the Highlanders answered with a 25-yard scoring strike from Sean Sparling to Luke Gomez, La Habra entered the house-of-horrors big-time.
St. Paul running back Kurt Scoby scored on runs of 30 yards and two yards on consecutive drives to put the Swordsmen up 19-6 after one period. Then, on 4th-and-five, the Swordsmen ran thirty yards on a fake punt before the dozing Highlanders recovered. St. Paul extended the drive again on 4th-and-five deep in La Habra territory. And with 57 seconds left in the half, they completed an impressive 95-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run by Paul Tellez.
Trailing 27-6 in the third quarter, the Clan found a ghost of their own. Carlos Martin slipped through Swordsmen fingers for touchdown runs of 67 and 70 yards and the Highlanders trailed 27-20 . . . when the scoreboard went dark. Whether ghosts or fuses, the refs managed the final two minutes of the third period on-the-field. The lights went back on with 11 minutes to go in the game. It might have been better for the Higlanders if they had not.
La Habra mounted what would have been at least a game-tying drive with eight minutes to play. Then on 4th-and-goal, Sparling did not see a wide-open Christian Casas on a short post opting instead for a well-covered receiver in the corner. As the ball fell to the turf, my wife whispered to me, “Number-10 was wide open.” Deh girl got game, I tell you!
Even with a reprieve, St. Paul was unable to seal-the-deal. The Clan again had the ball on the St. Paul 35, 1st-and-ten after a pass interference call in their favor. Then, with receivers covered, a scrambling Sparling was stripped of the ball and St. Paul recovered. Still, the Clan would not give up the ghost.
On 3rd-and-four at the St. Paul 40—in what became THE play of the game—a host of Highlander defenders sacked St. Paul quarterback, Paul Tellez, for a huge loss only to have it erased by a face-mask penalty. The mark-off gave the Swordsmen a first down, and a couple plays later Scoby ghosted into the end-zone to make the final score St. Paul 34, La Habra 20.
Revisiting a Week-1 Questionmark
After a slow start in their season-opening win over El Dorado, I wondered in this Blog whether the Highlanders were zero-week rusty or actually inconsistent. Three weeks into the season, we have a clue: These are not the Highlanders who captured six CIF division titles since 2002. This truth dawned on me tonight in “The Pit” where I sat behind a La Habra fan who’s screen-printed shirt advertised a “Decade of Dominance”.
Tonight, in Santa Fe Springs, that decade officially ended. Not even the ghosts of Highlanders past—having moved on to Denver, Fresno, New York and other haunts—could help the boys in blue. They may still fare well in the Freeway League, and it’s a bit early for a total write-off. But clearly these are not your daddy’s Highlanders.
And against the Orange Lutheran Lancers next Friday night, they haven’t a ghost of a chance.