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Wildcats, Eagles to settle things on the field

October 11, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN and JON HINSHAW, Sports Writers

In what has become a bitter rivalry, the Brawley Union and Southwest high school football teams will battle Friday night in both teams' Imperial Valley League opener.

Coming off what is being called one of the biggest wins in Brawley football's history, a 7-0 triumph over Rancho Buena Vista, the Wildcats enter with tremendous momentum

Factor in its 4-1 overall record, its No. 4 ranking in Division III in the San Diego Section and the fact that Southwest has won just one game this season and Brawley looks like a team with everything to lose.

"This is the first league game for both of us, so I know Southwest is going to be fired up for this. They have a chance to salvage their season. If they beat us, then they have a good chance at winning league," said Brawley coach John Bishop. "We know that we're always the biggest game for the other teams in league. Everybody's always talking about beating Brawley. But I've learned that it's better to be on top and have everyone coming after you than to be shootin' for the top."

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The Wildcats have been on top for a few years, winning the last four IVL titles.

What Southwest will have to contend with is one of the top offensive attacks in the Imperial Valley.

The Brawley offense has averaged 31 points and 370 yards per game. In wins over Palm Desert, Clairemont and Central Union high schools, the Wildcats outscored their opponents 128-13, including a 52-0 thrashing of Central.

Leading Brawley's attack is the running of Mitchell Ruiz and Andy Buckner. Ruiz has 553 yards rushing with five touchdowns and Buckner has racked up 395 yards with eight trips into the end zone.

The Wildcat defense hasn't been too shabby, either, allowing only 130 yards a contest and giving up fewer than five points per game on average. Brawley also has also pitched two shutouts.

But if there's one thing the Eagles can look to, it's a win over Brawley during passing league this summer. But that's a win Bishop thinks was overrated.

"You have those guys talking about how they beat us in passing league and they were taunting us during lifting meets. But talk is cheap. That's just like bravado," Bishop said. "Anyone can talk and talk about doing something. But have they put in the time and work it takes to win? That's why our players don't like them at all, because they talk a lot. There's just a lot of tension and hard feelings between both sides."

"They've been talking trash saying that we're using steroids … that's a slap to our face. We've been in the weight room working hard and they say something like that," said Wildcat senior linebacker Chris Ramirez, who recorded 11 tackles in Brawley's win over Rancho Buena Vista. "But we're not going to do any talking. We're just going to be ready for this game. We're going to be well prepared and just know their heartbeats … we'll let our performance do the talking."

Added 6-foot-3, 290-pound center Russell Abubo: "Right now we're working as hard as we've been. This is a big game for us. They beat us in passing league, and to me, that matters. Losing anytime, even if it's a little game like that, means something. But our coaches have been getting us prepared. All the credit has to go to them. They have us ready. And I know we're going to win this game."

For Southwest the contest has major ramifications for both the IVL and in its hunt for a playoff berth in the San Diego Section. The Eagles (1-4 overall) were not selected by the San Diego Section to compete in last year's playoffs, even after a 7-3 mark and a second-place finish in the IVL, but are holding out hope for this season.

"We have to win all the ball games we have left in order to go to the playoffs," said Storts. "We were very competitive in our first five games and we were just a play or two from being 5-0 right now. We're not changing much. We're going to play hard and iron out any mistakes we've made. We also need to limit our turnovers. Up to this point we've been our own worst enemy."

While Brawley enters the contest on a four-game winning streak, the Eagles can only boast a 13-11 victory over Banning but have had three of their games decided by less than a touchdown. While its offense has struggled, averaging just under 10 points a game, Southwest's defense has kept games close, yielding an average of just 15 points per game.

"Brawley is a very good team," said Storts. "Speed, discipline. They have a good program and we're in the process of building one. We really want to be competitive and make a ball game out of it."

Added Eagle safety A.J. Navarro: "We've been watching a lot of film and we have a great defense. Our offense has struggled so far, but I think we'll all step it up for this game. Everyone's been waiting for it."

Southwest took its biggest loss of the season in 2000 against the Wildcats. The contest, in which Brawley rolled the Eagles 56-21, got out of hand quickly. This season Storts and his players see the outcome being different, despite a few injuries.

The Eagles will still be without running back Terrence Johnson, who broke his wrist against Twentynine Palms, for at least another week. Quarterback Matt Petree re-injured his shoulder and is out, and backup quarterback Ricky Lopez is questionable. If Lopez fails to play, Southwest will call on sophomore Jesse Hoyt to be its play-caller.

"Our defenses will probably cancel each other out," said Storts. "It's going to be a challenge to see if our defense can stop their offense. We'll have to wait until game time to see if we're up to the challenge."

Added Navarro: "The game's not going to be easy. We've always had trouble with Brawley, so for us to win we've got to hold off on penalties and work together as a team."

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