UPON FURTHER REVIEW: KENNEDY HAS SPEED TO BURN; SYLMAR WAS SCORCHED BY COUGARS' FLEET BACKS.
The weary referee with sweat rolling off his chin struggled to the Sylmar High sideline Thursday night. He bent down at the waist, put his hands on his knees then motioned to the Sylmar team doctor.
``Hey Doc,'' the referee moaned. ``Anymore of this and me and my partners might need I.V. transfusions out here.''
The ref's fatigue was understandable. At that point, Sylmar and Kennedy had throttled one another for a combined six touchdowns, trading turns marching the length of the field while a group of middle-aged officials tried to keep up.
There were two minutes remaining.
In the first quarter.
The referee was taking a breather as Sylmar lined up to kick off.
A few seconds later, he was sprinting to the other end of the field as Kennedy's Clifford Johnson took the kick 97 yards for a another touchdown.
This wasn't a game. It was a track meet.
And as Sylmar discovered in a 69-33 loss, you'd better bring speed to a footrace. The Spartans were bigger and stronger, but Kennedy was decidedly faster. In the end, Sylmar couldn't keep up.
``We've got some explosive kids on our team,'' said Kennedy coach Bob Francola, the master of understatement.
Kennedy finished with 590 yards, and Sylmar had 350.
The Cougars aren't big, but with speedsters Trent Sanders, James Norris, Daron Taylor, Paul Holefield and Clifford Johnson running past and jumping over Sylmar's defensive backs, it didn't matter.
``They're receivers are just jets out there,'' Sylmar coach Jeff Engilman said.
Of course, without a quarterback to throw the ball and an offensive line to protect him, what good would they be?
Ruben Zaragoza may not be the tallest quarterback, nor have the strongest arm, but he's gutty and smart and he gets the ball where it needs to be. Against Sylmar, which entered the game with a banged-up secondary, Zaragoza threw for 468 yards and five touchdowns, completing 25 of 33 passes.
Zaragoza has played his career in the shadow of some other well-known area quarterbacks. Guys like Zac Wasserman at Westlake, Matt Cassel at Chatsworth, Casey Clausen at Alemany and Brandon Hance at Taft. All four have scholarships waiting to major Division I schools. Zaragoza's future is less certain, although he knows where he'll be Wednesday night: In the City Championship quarterfinals playing Crenshaw.
He took no credit for the spectacular performance against the Spartans.
``I just consider it my job. We worked so hard, my receivers worked so hard, all the yardage comes from them, not by me,'' Zaragoza said. ``And my line gave me protection and all the time I needed.''
The neat thing about Kennedy is how they work together as a team. On some clubs, two or three players dominate. Not the Cougars.
Check out these individual offensive stats: Norris had 12 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns, Sanders Trent had six for 97 yards and a score, Daron Taylor added four receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns, and Horfield had two catches for 77 yards. Three running backs combined for 104 yards on six carries.
It helped that Kennedy played Sylmar, which is designed to defend smash-mouth teams that run the ball. Along comes the Cougars, with their four-receiver sets and Zaragoza flinging the ball around, and suddenly the Spartans are at a disadvantage.
Give Francola credit. He created a system to complement the talent on hand. The Cougars have been a running team through the years, but with the group of athletes and lack of bulk on this club, Francola had to adjust.
``They've done a phenomenal job, the whole coaching staff,'' Engilman said. ``They've utilized whatever talent they've had and put them in just the perfect package. When I talk at clinics, the first thing I tell coaches is you've got to be able to utilize the personnel you have. And they have definitely utilized that personnel.''
PHOTO Mark Sutton and his Sylmar teammates were routed by the speedy Kennedy Cougars 69-33 on Thursday.
Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News