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A Changing of the Guard in City League Football
By Paul Paterra

It's pretty safe to say that this season involves a changing of the guard in City League football. That's because this year's champion will be a team that hasn't worn the crown for some time. Schenley (10-0) will meet Oliver (8-2), Saturday at 1 p.m. at South Stadium, to determine this year's City League champion. Schenley last won the tile in 1950. Oliver has not captured the City League football championship since 1942, a year when it shared the championship with Westinghouse.

"It's a whole new atmosphere," said Oliver coach Joe Zeglowitsch. "That's what you want…a playoff atmosphere. We told the kids regular season is over. Now, it's a two-game season. After that, it's more gravy on the potatoes. Right now, we're just concentrating on the City League championship."

'It's been a surprising season," said Schenley coach Jim Trent. "It's actually been a very pleasantly surprising season. I really didn't think we were going to do as well as we've been doing. (The kids) know this is a very important game, but we're not trying to put too much focus on the history. We're just focusing on what we have to do to win the game." Schenley is making its fourth appearance in the championship game since 1994. Last season, the Spartans fell to Perry in the championship game 26-6. It marked the second straight year the Spartans lost to Perry in the City League title game.

Trent hopes the experience of participating in those title contests can be helpful Saturday. "There's nothing like experience," Trent explained. "I've heard some of the kids saying, 'I'm know I'm going to do it different than I did last year.' Experience definitely plays a part in it." He also admits a victory Saturday would be nice for him. "It would get the monkey off my back," Trent said with a laugh. Schenley has had a great deal of success in the regular season, winning 23 straight regular season City League games.

Both Schenley and Oliver survived tight battles in the semifinals. Oliver won in sensational fashion. Vido Nalls inter-cepted a pass on the game's final play, and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears a 20-14 victory over Perry. "It was dramatic," Zeglowitsch said. "It was a good football game. Both teams played excellent football. It's unfortunate someone has to lose a game like that. This particular time we came up on the right end of the stick. It seemed like in the past we always came up on the short end of the stick."

Schenley held off a challenge from Brashear for a 24-21 victory in the other semifinal. Tayon Mitchell was outstanding for the Spartans against Brashear. He carried the ball 22 times for 259 yards and scored three touchdowns. One of Mitchell's scoring runs was a 99-yard jaunt, with just 41 seconds to play in the first half. On the season, Mitchell has 22 touchdowns and has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. "Tayon is a special and unique young man," Trent said of Mitchell. "Not only is he a great athlete, but he's a good person. He brings a lot of power and speed to the game and he sees the field very well."

Other important contributors for the Spartans have been tight end/linebacker Keith Hill, quarterback Mo Williams and wide receiver Patrick Body. "When Pat's game is on he's a force," Trent said. "We just love to get him the ball more, but he has come up with some big plays."

Nalls has made a habit of making big plays for Oliver this season. He ran the ball 13 times for 137 yards against Perry. Along with his interception return, he scored on a 68-yard run with 17 seconds left in the first half. For the season, Nalls has rushed for 1,134 yards and has scored 19 touchdowns. "He does a nice job," Zeglowitsch said of Nalls. "He was struggling at defensive back and then he comes back, turns it around and makes the big play at the end."

Another big-play guy for the Bears is Damon "The Bug" Olds. The mere mention of the name of the 5-3, 130-pound senior brings laughter of pride from Zeglowitsch. "He's one of a kind," Zeglowitsch said. "I can't say enough about him. If we could take that heart and intestinal fortitude and stick it in one of the bigger fellows, we'd have an NFL All-Pro." Olds scored touchdowns four different ways in the Bears' last regular season game against Langley.

Other key members of the Bears' squad include fullback/linebacker Diego Matthews, quarterback Henry Wallace and running back/defensive back Troy Gonzalez. Zeglowitsch is in his 14th year at Oliver. The Bears not only haven't won the City League crown since 1942, they also haven't been in the title game since 1990. He notices a lot of excitement concerning this season, not only with the players, but also throughout the school. "I catch the kids at lunch time high-fiving the players," Zeglowitsch said. "It's nice. Everybody is buying into it." Trent is in his 17th year at Schenley. He said Schenley's students are caught up in the excitement as well. "It's just a great atmosphere to come to work. The kids are excited." The winner of Saturday's game also will represent the city league in the Quad A PIAA playoffs.