Back in September, it was easy to consider the idea of Sylmar High winning a 2014 prep football title. The Spartans had been good the year before, reaching the playoff semifinals, and were returning most of their crucial personnel on offense and defense.
The same can’t be said about Monroe High. The Vikings last had a winning season in 2007, so playing .500 ball would have been a significant step up.
But on Saturday, Dec. 6, the Spartans and the Vikings will be on the field at the Los Angeles Coliseum, each one game away from being a City Section champion.
Monroe (10-3) plays Los Angeles High (11-2) for the Division III title at 11 a.m. Sylmar (11-2) plays Hamilton High of Los Angeles (10-3) at 3 p.m.
Sylmar last won City football championships in 1992 and 1994. Monroe last appeared in a City football championship game in 1971.
Here is a look at players that are key reasons for why both teams are where they are.
Offense Isn’t The Only Spartan Story
Seniors Louis Gonzalez, and twins Issac and Justin Reyes, Solidified The O- and D-lines
The offensive brilliance of Sylmar in its City Section Division II football playoff run has been breathtaking. Blessed with superb skill players, from quarterback Clarence Williams, Jr. and receivers Anthony Muse and Danny Mendoza to running backs Marcus Gandy and Shonte Smith, the Spartans have been posted video game-like totals against Bell, Chatsworth and Eagle Rock.
But those players cannot do what they do without blockers. And it doesn’t matter how many points the Spartans score if they can’t stop anybody.
The offensive and defensive lines have been just as important to Sylmar’s success. Three players in particular — Louis Gonzalez and twin bothers Issac and Justin Reyes, all seniors — have had the biggest impact. By agreeing to play on both lines, the trio shored up the one glaring weakness the Spartans had.
“Once they did that, we started rolling,” Coach John Brazil said.
Sylmar has lost only twice in 13 games. The first came in the season opener against Crespi. The second came against Palmdale on Sept. 12. That was the first time Gonzales and the Reyes brothers converted into two-way players. The Spartans have won 10 consecutive games since, going into the Division II final against Hamilton of Los Angeles this Saturday.
When asked about their sacrifice and selflessness, the players merely shrug. To them it was important to get the team in position to win a championship, after losing in the semifinals last year.
“Last year we had no defense at all,” Issac Reyes said. “This year we’re giving up a lot fewer points; we’ve even had a few shutouts. The offense scores, the defense keeps the points down, and we win.”
“It’s about going hard and staying humble,’’ Gonzalez added. “Also being together, and not giving up on each other when a play goes wrong.”
The 17-year-old twins said their uniform numbers would have special meaning when they take the field on Saturday.
Justin Reyes wears 56 to honor his cousin Raymond Reyes, who played football at Sylmar and graduated in June. “He’s the one who introduced me to the game, he taught me a lot about the game. Recently he left for the Marines. And he told me to represent his number because he didn’t want any one but family to wear it — especially me. I don’t take anything lightly when I’m wearing his number. I’m wearing it with pride and I know I have big shoes to fill.”
Issac Reyes had previously worn jersey numbers 55 and 66 at Sylmar. This season he chose to wear 50 because that was the number his good friend Erik Muniz wore last season.
“I remembered him crying after the Chatsworth game, knowing he’d probably never play the game again, and it killed me,” Issac Reyes said.
Hamilton last won the Division II championship in 2009 when it beat El Camino Real 67-42, and eventually moved up to Division I. The Yankees returned to Division II last year, and will present Sylmar with it best test since the Palmdale game.
The Spartans are confident they are up to the challenge, and are eager to win their first City title in 20 years. When asked what winning the championship meant to the team, school and community, Gonzales replied, “In a word, everything.”
Small Stature, Big Heart
Quarterback Luis Dorame Has Carried Monroe To The Division III Title Game
At 5-8 and 160 pounds, Luis Dorame looks more like a team manager than a star quarterback.
But Dorame, 17, a senior, has navigated the Monroe Vikings to a place they haven’t visited in more than 40 years: a City Section championship game. Monroe will play Los Angeles High for the Division III title on Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum, hoping to cap the team’s best year since 2007, the last time Monroe enjoyed a winning season.
“All that hard work, those 6 a.m. workouts we’ve been through, all that effort we put in on and off the field has finally paid off after all the years. … The plan was for us to make it to the championship game, and here we are — finally,” said Dorame, reflecting on the Vikings in 2014.
Dorame certainly wasn’t around for the Vikings’ last title game in 1971 (losing to Carson.) Probably neither was anyone else currently at Monroe. But if the fan support on Saturday is anything like it was at Monroe’s Nov. 28 road semifinal game at Bernstein High in Hollywood — when there were more Vikings’ fans in the stands than Dragons’ fans — Dorame will be grateful.
“All the hard stuff we’ve been through, the support we’re getting helps so much,” he said. “It boosts not only the morale but the determination, the hunger for us to succeed and win that championship.”
For most of the season it has been Dorame’s arm that has ignited the Vikings’ offense. He’s thrown for nearly 3,500 yards and 33 touchdowns. But it was his legs that were the difference in Monroe’s stirring 22-19 semifinal victory.
The Vikings were trailing 7-6 to start the second half when Dorame took them on a scoring drive to open the third quarter. The key play was a 30-yard run through the middle of the Dragons’ defense that set up Monroe on the 1-yard line. He scored a play later, and gave Monroe the lead. Dorame delivered the same thing on Monroe’s next possession — another Dragon-deflating long run to set up a second score. Both touchdowns were followed by two-point conversions, which gave Monroe enough of a lead to withstand a late Bernstein rally.
“The momentum shifted tremendously after those runs,” Dorame said. “I felt great getting the momentum on our side, and getting us in the red zone, a couple yards away from touchdowns.
“Both were designed pass plays. But I looked up and didn’t see anybody in front of me. I looked front side to back side, and in a split-second I decided to tuck the ball and run. I saw a huge opening up the middle and took it. I wish I could have gotten in for touchdowns but we scored anyway.”
It was that kind of decision-making that Coach Don Senegal — who installed Dorame at quarterback as a freshman in 2011 — hoped would make a difference in Monroe’s football fortunes.
“He never gets excited,” Senegal said. “Even as a freshman he had that calm demeanor. I like that in a QB, that calm demeanor, especially with young guys around who haven’t played before.
“In our run game he has the option to give or keep the ball. Knowing him, he probably was going to pull the ball out regardless (on those plays). He made the right decisions. That showed his growth and maturity.”
Dorame said he’ll be excited about playing in the Coliseum on Saturday, but calm and focused at game time. He expects his teammates to be the same.
“We’ve got to keep playing like we’ve been playing, keep putting in the effort, keep driving and stay hungry (to win),” Dorame said. “And no matter what, we have to stay disciplined and focused.
“As long as we play Monroe football, nothing can stop us.”