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‘Yes, life isn't always fair, and there is a lesson in here. But this, this is a tough one,' said Brethren Christian football coach Pay McInally. The Warriors won't make it to the CIF-SS playoffs, despite a 9-1 record. (Register file photo)

Miller: Brethren Christian learns a lesson no one should have to

STAFF COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON BEACH – Without their armor, they are all vulnerable, even a top-notch football team, minus its masks, unable to hide the most bitter of disappointment.

So, I had the chance this week to look into the face of frustration, and what looked back was mostly blank and completely sad, the heartbroken eyes of kids who’d just had a dream pulled out from under their feet.

“We worked so hard to get to this point,” Nathan Sagastume said. “I’m crushed.”

Said Dante Sanchez, “We did everything we were supposed to do, but it never was up to us.”

Added Jason Fuga: “Normally, we say, ‘Let our play do the talking.’ But now, we can’t even say that.”

No, they can’t, the Brethren Christian Warriors having discovered that it doesn’t matter if no one’s there to listen.

On Thursday, they concluded their regular season with a 49-0 victory over Carnegie of Riverside, finishing undefeated on the field but with a 9-1 record officially because of a forfeit for using an ineligible player.

Brethren Christian, however, won’t qualify for the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, despite outscoring its opponents, 450-134.

The Warriors aren’t moving on, even though they’re ranked No. 4 in Division 10, which nonetheless will advance 16 teams to the postseason.

They can’t pursue a tournament title, unlike the five, six, maybe seven teams they defeated this season that now will be allowed to chase a championship.

“How can I look our kids straight in the eyes and say this is fair?” Brethren Christian coach Pat McInally said. “Yes, life isn’t always fair, and there is a lesson in here. But this, this is a tough one.”

The Warriors aren’t going to the playoffs because there’s no room from them in the playoffs. CIF officials determined Tuesday that the Division 10 bracket already will be filled by teams with spots guaranteed by the results of league play.

Brethren Christian is a member of the Academy League, which for football this season dropped from four teams to three when Sage Hill switched to 8-man in the spring.

Under CIF guidelines, a league must have at least four teams to be recognized, leaving Brethren Christian, St. Margaret’s and Crean Lutheran – through no fault of their own – to play as “freelance” teams.

Since the Division 10 playoffs have no spots available for freelance entries, the Warriors just learned they were eliminated from playoff contention, basically, before their first snap of practice back in August.

“We shouldn't be a freelance team,” McInally said. “We’re still the Academy League. We contend that this is a special circumstance, and we should have a year to secure a fourth team for our league.“

Brethren Christian sent a letter explaining this position to the CIF on Wednesday, school officials admirably going for it on fourth and very long.

The situation isn’t made any simpler by the fact that, for this school year, football is operating under a new playoff format, effectively antiquating some of those CIF guidelines.

And then there’s this: Brethren Christian was unaware until this week that there could be an issue, the players finding out Tuesday night by reading a story on this newspaper’s website.

“With the divisions and the rankings, that just misled all of us,” Sagastume said. “I thought if we were ranked pretty high that would get us in the playoffs. Turns out that it didn’t matter.”

To be clear, the Warriors aren’t whining, not in the least bit, something McInally reinforced by explaining, “We’re just trying to find a solution.” They aren’t interested in anyone feeling sorry for them.

But it also should be reported that this is the same program that last November was denied an opportunity in the playoffs also because of outside circumstances.

Brethren Christian lost in the semifinals to Grace Brethren of Simi Valley. The day before the final, Grace Brethren announced it had used an ineligible player against the Warriors and had to forfeit that victory.

By that point, however, it was too late to reschedule the title game and Saddleback Valley Christian was awarded the championship while Brethren Christian could do nothing more than sit idly by.

“We already had a chip on our shoulder because of last year,” Fuga said. “We were like, ‘OK, we’re going to go out now and win a ring.’ That was our mindset all offseason. That drove us in practice. Now, to tell us our season is just over, that’s not right to me.”

Even worse, Fuga is a senior. So are Sagastume and Sanchez, seniors whose high school careers were going to end soon enough already, before they read just how soon the end really would come.

Just a week ago, Brethren Christian overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to beat St. Margaret’s, 50-49, winning on a trick play in double overtime when Sagastume completed a 2-point conversion pass to his little brother, Raimon.

Now that’s what high school football is supposed to be about. Until Tuesday, that’s what the Warriors were about.

Then everything changed, revealing an unfair system but exposing something more discouraging: the disappointment of kids who did nothing to deserve this.

Contact the writer: jmiller@scng.com


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