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December 18, 2011

De La Salle wins third straight Open Bowl

This story was produced by Douglas Benton of NorCalPreps.com,
the leading source for high school football in Northern California.

That September 23 night in Florida, when De La Salle fell to St. Thomas Aquinas ,30-6, seemed like a distant memory on Saturday at the Home Depot Center.

No. 18 De La Salle, behind a dominating defense and great execution, ran past No. 20 Westlake, 35-0, for the program's fourth state bowl win and third straight Open Division title.

If a 35-0 win over a previously undefeated and nationally ranked team can seem workmanlike, the Spartans were able to do it on Saturday night. They scored 1:17 into the game and added on two more scores to lead Westlake 21-0 at halftime.

It was obvious then - De La Salle was once again California's best team.

The Spartans, which pounded Anaheim (Calif.) Servite, 48-8, last season, didn't let up after the half. They outgained Westlake, 143-30, while putting two more touchdowns on the board before sending the final football game of the year to a running clock.

The storylines to grab from the game are many, but it starts with a defense many consider to be one of the best defenses De La Salle has fielded. Westlake was held to 248 yards and less than five yards per play.

The leader of the defense is Cal-bound Michael Barton (nine total tackles), who patrols the middle of the defense at linebacker and is athletic enough to make plays well outside of his area.

Barton is clearly the best linebacker in Northern California among seniors and with standout performances a frequent occurrence this fall, he may be in line to add NorCal Defensive Player of the Year to his resume before heading to Berkeley.

He teams with junior Michael Hutchings (six total tackles), who will be one of the top recruits in the country next year, and junior David Moffitt as another recruit to watch this spring and summer.

These linebackers were able to roam free, thanks to the pressure given by the defensive line, especially Austin Hooper[db] and Chris Olinger. Both players were constantly in the backfield in forcing Westlake out of its original play with Olinger having both of De La Salle's sacks.

The backend of the defense was able to keep plays in front of them and force the Warriors to put long drives together. Joshua Jenkins was solid on Saturday, but it was star receiver [db]Anthony Williams[db] who made the play of the night on a diving interception in the end zone which De La Salle head coach Bob Ladouceur called, "unbelievable." With a good performance on the state level, expect Williams to see a bump in his recruiting over the next month.

"They have been great all year," Ladouceur said of his defense. "We didn't want to give up the big play. They are going to get yards."

Westlake did in the first half to the tune of 211 yards, but had no points to show for it. The Warriors turned it over on downs at the Spartans' 19 and 42 yard line before throwing interceptions to Williams and Moffitt at the goal line. On the Williams interception, Justin Walker delivered a big blow on quarterback Justin Moore. The junior quarterback was able to cause some problems with his legs and finished 15-for-31 for 153 yards. His top target, Nevada bound [db]Cody Tuttle, had nine catches for 89 yards in consistently getting open on the underneath routes.

The offense wasn't bad either for De La Salle with 180 yards and a passing touchdown with two rushing scores from Bart Houston. After an early season slump, the Wisconsin commit was very sharp in putting zip on all of his throws and showing mobility to throw on the run and pick up big chunks of yards through option plays. Houston hasn't lost to a California team as a starter with his only career loss coming against St. Thomas Aquinas as he finishes his career as a three-time state champion.

"He's a great quarterback and he's going to be a great college quarterback," Ladouceur said. "He's a rock. He's tireless. He's a great, great leader."

Ladouceur also noted the development of the running game as helping the offense improve as the season wore on. On Saturday, Joseph Te'o had 98 yards on 16 carries while Tiapepe Vitale went for 89 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. With an offensive line that routinely wins getting off the ball and moving the point of attack, each back hits the holes hard and rarely goes down on first contact. As a team, De La Salle rushed for 269 yards.

The Spartans have now won 39 straight games against in-state competition and are 39-1 in their last 40 games overall. They have dropped four of their last five out of state contests, but there is no questioning the dominance in California. The Spartans have won the state's top bowl game for three straight years and done so the past two years in overly dominating fashion.

Midway through the season - after De La Salle was thoroughly dominated in Florida - many wondered if any team would finish in the Top 25 of the RivalsHigh 100. That question was answered Saturday night.


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