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Beyond the End Zone: El Centro school multiplies buzz of prep football finals

12/02/2017, 9:25pm PST
By Jim Lindgren

CIF San Diego Section Division 3 high school football championship played at Southwestern College.El Centro Southwest vs Santa Fe Christian

Pandemonium in purple!

That’s what happens when a school with tight community ties plays for a San Diego Section championship for the first time.

That’s what happens when a 5-foot-7, 185-pound linebacker intercepts a potential game-winning pass at the 2-yard line with 35.3 seconds left to lift that school to its first section title for a 13-0 season.

That’s what happens when 90 band members, 30-something cheerleaders and thousands of rabid fans make a two-hour trek from El Centro to watch their beloved Southwest Eagles.

“It was an amazing feeling knowing we had that support all the way from El Centro,” Southwest quarterback Cameron Jungers said.

“I wasn’t going to let that one drop,” said Derek Guzman, who made the play of his life to preserve the Eagles’ 35-28 win over Santa Fe Christian on Saturday afternoon at Southwestern College.

Looking up at the throng, vice principal Sergio Rubio, who has been at the school for 14 years, quipped, “It’s just a couple thousand of my closest friends. The excitement, the electricity. We’ve been on all cylinders for weeks.”

After the win, coach John Mitosinka pointed to the crowd and exclaimed, “Look at that. I’m so excited for the kids and the whole community that came out to support us. They’ll remember this forever.”

Party started

Led by bass drummer Carlos Fernandez, that Southwest band did an impressive job of kicking off the festivities at high noon with an inspiring rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” And the large crowd simply went bonkers when Jungers ran through a gauntlet of cheerleaders waving the Eagles’ flag as the band struck up Notre Dame’s “Victory March.”

Ryan Childers was on the first Southwest team in 1996.

“It’s taken our school a long time to get here, so this is really exciting for the whole community,” Childers said. “Our first team won one game, and that was over a team from Mexico. We even lost to CETYS (of Tijuana).”

Make some noise

Fans from Santa Fe Christian (the only private school in the weekend title games), Ramona, Steele Canyon, Helix and Mission Hills also brought large boisterous crowds.

Perhaps they are over losing the Carson City Super Changers.

No crying in football

Steele Canyon coach Scott Longerbone felt like a rock star after his No. 7-seeded Cougars edged unbeaten Ramona 33-29 in the Division II title game for the first championship in school history. He was swarmed by fans, hugged repeatedly and high-fived until his hand was as red as his hair. He even got a little teary-eyed.

“I’m not a crier,” he said. “The last time I cried was when my son was born. But I was tearing up there for a bit.”

Battle of the T-shirts

Enjoying the school’s finest season in school history, Ramona players arrived sporting spiffy T-shirts with an inscription of “R team, R town, R time” that most players wear under their pads and jerseys.

“That’s been our theme since April,” Bulldogs coach Damon Baldwin said. “You’ve got to have buy-in, and the kids seem to have done that.”

Said three-year starter Caleb Berman, “We’ve had a magical season. So many of us came together and became like a family.”

Meanwhile, Steele Canyon quarterback Thomas Fishburne was wearing his customary cut-sleeve shirt that appears not to have seen a washing machine since he got it his freshman year. On the back someone wrote in ink “Fish” and drew a simple picture of a fish. “I love this shirt,” Fish said.

We’ll meet again

Berman and Southwest’s Tyler Saikhon are two of the best hurdlers in the section. Saikhon bested Berman in last year’s section track finals, but Berman vowed revenge this spring.

Gotta love pork butts

Well after Friday night’s game was finished and nearly everyone had left the stadium, Big Dev of Big Dev’s “Down Home” Barbeque was still smoking pork butts on a flaming grill to get ready for Saturday’s tripleheader.

Big Dev estimated that he prepared “a few hundred pounds” of pork and chicken for the weekend. His secret BBQ sauce recipe came from his grandmother in South Georgia.

In case you missed it … delicious!

Mike on the mike

Mike Allen, 71, has been officiating high school football games for 34 years, but only a handful of times being wired for stadium communication on penalty calls like he was in the Division III title game. “Even if I don’t have a mike, I say the same thing out loud on the field,” he said.

Said a sideline observer, “Mike Allen is the voice of God on that mike.”

Semper Fi

William Nelson and Lucia Lopez, both sergeants and recruiters in the Marines, set up a pull-up bar challenge at the entrance to Southwestern’s Devore Stadium. Just past sundown, the most anyone had done was 14. Nelson, 25, says he can easily do 23. “That’s the max I need to pass the test,” he said. “After that, I stop.”

Been there, done that

Monte Vista’s 71-48 victory over San Diego in Friday’s Division IV title game was not even the highest scoring game that coach Ron Hamamoto has been in. He was coach at Rancho Bernardo when the Broncos outlasted West Hills by the same score in 1999.

Rancho Bernardo had a section-record 698 rushing yards in that one, and the Wolf Pack put up 449 passing yards. Monte Vista only got 574 rushing yards on Friday.


As head coach at Southwestern College for 11 years, Ed Carberry is a fixture on the sideline for every game on championship weekend. As a former head coach at Monte Vista, he was pleased with the Monarchs’ epic win on Friday, but with Helix also playing this weekend, he was reminded of his worst loss ever … in this same stadium.

In 2001, Carberry’s Monte Vista squad beat Helix 38-27 in the regular season. The Highlanders returned the favor and then some in the Class 2A semifinals with a resounding 61-28 victory en route to a 12-1 record and the championship.

“We beat their greatest team,” Carberry recalled, “and they came back and beat us like they hated us from birth.”

Lindgren is a freelance writer.

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