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1983: SCV's year of football glory, Part II of II

Hart and Canyon won CIF titles on consecutive nights, opening up a path of success for future teams

Posted: November 7, 2013 9:06 p.m.
Updated: November 7, 2013 9:06 p.m.

Former Canyon football head coach Harry Welch, far right, walks onto the field at Canyon High with Tony Moore, second from right, and Rick Burton, third from right, who were captains of Canyon's 1983 CIF championship team, before a Canyon High football game on Sept. 7.

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Today, Canyon High School and Hart High School meet for the 46th time on a football field.

It was supposed to be a Foothill League championship game between the Cowboys and Indians.

But crosstown Valencia ruined that by upsetting Hart 24-19 for its fifth straight Foothill League title.

Now Canyon and Hart are playing for second place.

More importantly, they are playing for bragging rights.

In 1983, the two schools met in an epic season-opener that went Canyon’s way on a last-second, two-point conversion for a 22-21 Cowboys victory.

Two months later on back-to-back days, each school won California Interscholastic Federation championships — the first CIF football titles in Santa Clarita Valley history.

It only made the rivalry stronger.

Listen to guys from the 1983 Hart team that lost to Canyon, and their everlasting anger for losing to the Cowboys will not die.

“It was a perfect pass and catch — a fade to (Robert) Owens (on a two-point conversion),” says Dave Trogan, who was defending on the touchdown prior to the two-point conversion. “But he caught it well out of bounds, as the game films show. (Teammate) Mike (Gatto) and I couldn’t believe they called it a touchdown. We had him well covered. Nine times out of 10 it would have been called incomplete, out of bounds. I guess it was such a great pass and catch, the ref felt it deserved to be a touchdown. Yes, still a little bitter because we had been beating them all game and were the better team that night. We wanted to set the record straight in a final game, CIF champs versus CIF champs.”

Of greater importance, it made the Santa Clarita Valley stronger.

Twenty-two years after the first CIF titles for Canyon and Hart, 2005 enriched the legacy of those 1983 teams that made people take notice of the Santa Clarita Valley’s football.

Hart and Canyon played in the 2005 CIFSouthern Section Division II championship game — the first and only time the teams have met for a CIF title.

Canyon won the game 21-13 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, stopping the Indians, who had driven 98 yards, on the Cowboys’ 1-yard line with 10 seconds to play in the game.

By 2005, the Santa Clarita Valley had six high schools playing in the Foothill League.

A Hart graduate was the starting quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens in Kyle Boller. A Hart graduate and future NFL quarterback Matt Moore was the starting quarterback at Oregon State. Canyon had a running back in J.J. DiLuigi, who scored 43 touchdowns that season and would go on to play at BYU.

To get to that championship game, Canyon defeated a crosstown Valencia team in the 2005 semifinals — a Valencia team with the state’s all-time leader in passing yardage in Michael Herrick and a future NFL running back in Shane Vereen.

“That year you had three teams who were literally getting national attention,” says Harry Welch, who was Canyon’s head coach for its 1983, 1984, 1985, 2005 and 2006 CIF titles. “It just wasn’t the Cowboys, it wasn’t just the Hart Indians, it wasn’t just Herrick and Valencia. We had three teams getting so much attention and all were playing so well.”

Canyon built on that 2005 season with an improbable 2006 upset of California superpower and then-nation No. 1 Concord De La Salle in the CIF’s first state football championship game since 1927.

On the way to that state title game, Canyon defeated a Hart team 41-25 led by junior running back Delano Howell, who is currently in the NFL.

The boom created in 1983 was lasting.

Randy Austin says his son Blake looks up to him and wants to be like him.

Blake is currently a senior linebacker/running back for Randy’s former Santa Clarita Valley foe Saugus. Blake is an undersized terror, a 5-foot-10-inch, 175-pound grinder and pounder very much in the mold of the players from his dad’s 1983 Canyon team.

Does Blake realize how significant Canyon’s 1983 title was?

“He knows it put Canyon on the map,” says Randy, who was a tight end on the ‘83 team and later a tight end at UCLA who was drafted by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. “He took the stat book, looked through it. He said he looks up to me, admires me, wants to play like me.”

But they don’t play football in the SCV now the way they did in 1983.

“Smashmouth, tearing peoples’ heads off,” is how Randy describes the old days.

He was a sophomore tight end with the team that became known as the “Dirty Thirty,” a nickname they
earned because there were only 30 players on the team.

It was a small team in more ways than one.

There may have been two players who eclipsed 200 pounds.

Rudy Grimaldo was a starter on the offensive line, the team’s statistician Dody Garcia recalls.The 5-foot-2-inch

Garcia says Grimaldo may have been 5 feet, 4 inches tall.

Numbers were low, according to players from that team, because many kids couldn’t handle Welch’s demands.

Austin remembers the Cowboys playing a 7-on-7 preseason tournament in Westlake and blowing out every team, yet Welch still made his players stay and run afterward because he didn’t think they played to their best potential.

“The sound of Harry’s Velcro watch tearing — you knew it was time for laps,” says ‘83 Canyon lineman Brent Parkinson, who later went on to play for USC and the Denver Broncos. Parkinson’s son Cole is a sophomore quarterback at Valencia.

“He pushed us harder than we ever thought we could. So many lessons we learned from coach Welch — you can always accomplish more than you think you can if you rely on the person next to you. Coach Welch, he just brought out things you never thoughtbyou could do.”

“It’s never been acceptable to me to accept an excuse for not being as prepared as we could,” says Welch, now 68 years old and coaching at Santa Margarita Catholic High Schoolbin Rancho Santa Margarita.

“But I never, ever thought we’d win the championship.” Welch has said time and again that he never talked to his players about winning.

They verify that.

But in 1983, he’d work them to exhaustion, play mind games with them to challenge their will and at the same time be their father figure — Parkinson recalls.

Welch did things much differently than his counterpart at Hart — Carl Sweet.

“I would say he was much more intense. Let’s put it that way — much more intense,” says Sweet, now 64 years old and living in Placentia.

Where Welch challenged his players by running them, Sweet challenged his players by saying if Hart won the CIF title, he’d shave his head.

“Carl Sweet to this day is a guiding influence in my life,” says Tim McKeon. “He pulled me aside before the first game of the playoffs and said, ‘Hey, we can do something really special here if you will pull together the other seniors and make a decision right now. I have no question in my mind this team can win a championship.’ Me and him, a 17-year-old kid, and he says, ‘You guys can do something special here.’”

Welch and Sweet did have something in common, though. They were innovators. “They showed the way — what it takes to be balanced football,” says Los Angeles Times preps sportswriter Eric Sondheimer, known as the guru of prep sports writing in Los Angeles. “That was the coaches. ... Carl Sweet was able to develop quarterbacks, running backs and receivers.

“They had great quarterbacks, and great passing separated them. Most people didn’t pass back then more than 200 yards. But in the summertime (Hart and Canyon) got involved in summer passing tournaments. Harry was a workaholic. The Herrington brothers showed what could happen if you did well in passing tournaments and showed people. They were the wave of the future and they were copied. People came out to watch them, watch Harry Welch and what he was about and Carl Sweet.”

Herrington and his quarterback guru brother, Dean, earned the reputation of being innovators with the spread offense with their success of the 1990s and into the early 2000s.

Hart had an All-CIF quarterback every year from 1986 to 2003 and NCAA Division I quarterbacks and at one point had six straight quarterbacks earn NCAA Division I scholarships. Herrington says Sweet was a significant influence.

“He taught me and both of my brothers game planning, game management, don’t be afraid to be innovative as far as plays go,” says Herrington, who has been a coach on all eight Hart CIF championship teams. “And the way to treat players. He was very influential. To this day we do some of the same things — not necessarily Xs and Os, but how to manage a team.”

Darryl Ingram, the 1983 Hart tight end, says the pro style offense Sweet put together gave him a leg up at the University of California, Berkeley and in the NFL, where he played four seasons. Hart’s offense, Ingram says, played off the running game and used a lot of playaction passing and used sophisticated formations that confused opposing defenses.

For Canyon, a swarming defense became a trademark. Welch’s players watched countless hours of film from a reel projector and looked for opponents’ tendencies.

Randy Austin recalls Canyon knowing every time one particular opponent would run the ball based off the position of their heels before the play. Welch saw this and pointed it out on film. There was no team more prepared than the Dirty Thirty. Though Hart could argue the same thing. However, there were hiccups along the way.

Hart lost twice in 1983 — the season opener to Canyon and the Foothill League finale on Nov. 11, 1983 to Schurr. The 21-15 loss to Schurr meant that Hart would split the Foothill League title with the Montebello high school.

“The only one word I can use to describe the losses is pain,” Ingram says. “It caused us pain. In hindsight, maybe it made us reassess what we were doing and how precise a football game is. We should have won both those games. We let them slip through our hands. No one beats us. We let two games slip. It’s painful to prepare all year-round and not do your best.”

So Hart took it out on Oxnard in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Coastal Conference championship with a 35-15 win behind 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Mike Gatto.

The Indians got by Newbury Park in the second round 19-14 thanks to sophomore call-up Mitch Spake’s two field goals. Hart beat West Torrance 33-7 in the semifinals. West Torrance came into the game having shut out four of its previous six opponents.

That set the stage for the championship game at College of the Canyons on Friday, Dec. 9, 1983. North Torrance came into the game 13-0, having outscored its opponents 385-82 on the season.

The Signal estimated there were 5,000 people at College of the Canyons’ Cougar Stadium for the game. Hart quarterback Tom Bonds threw an interception on the game’s first offensive play. The Saxons scored the game’s first 13 points.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Sweet says. “But well before halftime, a key play was a long pass close to the end of the stadium from Tommy to Darryl Ingram. The ball was slightly underthrown. It went over the defender and Darryl plucked it from a defender. It was one of those plays. He carried it to the end zone and provided us with momentum.”

The 66-yard touchdown with 2:15 to play in the first quarter was the first of four consecutive Indian scores. Ingram caught four passes in the game for 144 yards and three touchdowns.

Ask the Hart players what they remember about the game and the first thing most of them say is Darryl Ingram. Herrington says that game earned Ingram a scholarship to Cal.

Ask Ingram what he remembers first about the game and he’ll say something else.

“I should have had four touchdowns, but I stepped out of bounds on a touchdown,” Ingram says. “That’s my regret. I have very little to regret, but I played the greatest game of my life.”

Before the game, Sweet gave his players a pregame speech. In it, he was passionate and might have used a colorful word or two. He remembers what he said.

“Nobody knows where Hart High is,” Sweet began. “It’s the school by Magic Mountain. We’re going to let people know where Hart High is tonight.”

The next night Canyon took the same field at Cougar Stadium. The grass was chewed up from the previous night’s game and celebration. And it was muddy. The whole season was a rainy, muddy one. And it didn’t affect Canyon negatively.

After losing to Notre Dame, the Cowboys destroyed Dominguez 34-0 to start their 46 game winning streak.

They easily won the Golden League and opened up the CIF-Southern Section Northwestern Conference playoffs with a 41-20 win over Blair of Pasadena behind 209 rushing yards and three touchdowns by senior tailback Carl Chadwell.

The next week wasn’t so easy. Canyon trailed Mary Star of San Pedro 7-6 with under two minutes to play at a foggy and misty Harbor College in Wilmington.

“I remember that two-minute offense. Harry would wind his arm and that was the signal,” recalls Garcia, who is an educator at West Ranch High — which became the sixth and final SCV school in the Foothill League in 2007.

Canyon quarterback Rick Burton, who led Canyon so calmly to a late win over Hart in the opener, again drove his Cowboys down the field with precision and patience.

Canyon running back Frank Gardner scored the winning touchdown with 43 seconds left from 5 yards out for a 14-7 Cowboys victory.

“All the writers would say how cool and calm Rick was. ‘Rick Burton, the quarterback with no nerves, cool and calmly directed the show.’ That was the label,” Garcia recalls. “Behind the scenes, like any high school kid, sure he was nervous. On the sideline, his head was shaking, Harry would be talking and Rick would be looking around. ... Once he was on the field, it was clockwork.”

The next week, Canyon High was abuzz because KNBC sportscaster Stu Nahan — a legendary broadcasting figure in Los Angeles, came to the school to do a story on the Cowboys’ upcoming game with Monrovia.

Canyon led 27-19 late in the fourth quarter when a Monrovia team, described by The Signal at the time as being loaded with college prospects, scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 27-25.

Monrovia quarterback Kim Ainsworth’s two-point conversion pass was swatted down by Canyon linebacker Tony Moore.

“They had an All-American tight end, Willie Griffin, and it was my job to cover him,” Moore recalls. “I read his route, stuck with him, it was one of those perfect scenarios. I remember diving for it and getting a hand on it. It fell to the ground. The excitement set in there. I knew we had won and were going on to the CIF championship game.”

Welch doesn’t remember much of that game, he admits today. There were an estimated 5,000 people at Cougar Stadium for that game. Canyon had the exact opposite start of Hart the night before as Burton connected twice to Robert Owens in the first quarter to take a 13-0 lead over Bishop Montgomery.

The Cowboys never trailed in the game and beat the Knights 40-24. Two champions in two days.

“Years earlier Joe Kapp played at Hart, so there was an identity. It had success,” Welch says of the Santa Clarita Valley prior to 1983. “My first year at Canyon, we defeated Hart and I was an assistant. It was nice. The local people at Canyon were happy. It was one high school defeating a crosstown high school. ... (It) didn’t really lift a community. ‘83 I thought was the beginning of the whole community rising up — both sides. It wasn’t just Canyon Country.

If you lived in any other part of the valley, you knew there was validation of the excellence of our programs. On a bigger stage, to me, my perspective, Santa Clarita was now on Broadway.”

On Dec. 7, 1983, The Signal used the upper third of that day’s front page for its editorial — an over-the-top editorial, one might say.

It wrote:

As long as there are birds in the skies and fish in the oceans; as long as the Santa Clara River keeps on tumbling across the valley in the wintertime, and until we all hear Gabriel’s horn blowing on God’s great judgment day, the troubadours will roam the world telling in song and story the legend of the Santa Clarita Valley’s Cowboys and Indians. For this is the year of glory for the playing fields of the Santa Clarita Valley.

It wasn’t the year. It was start of many.

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