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Bad start forgotten as Dana Hills surges toward title
DANA POINT - It's not how you start, it's how you finish.
That is the motto the Dana Hills football team adopted when it found itself with an 0-5 record midway through this season. The Dolphins could have easily packed it in after that disastrous start, but they didn’t.
They regrouped and refocused, and now Dana Hills has turned its season around with three consecutive victories, including two in the Sea View League, to give itself positive momentum heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
The Dolphins (3-5, 2-0), who moved from the South Coast League to the Sea View League this season, bring that winning streak into a showdown with Laguna Hills (5-3, 2-1) on Friday night that could decide the league championship.
“It's just this team mentality that we've really developed in the league games,” Dolphins linebacker Justin Scott said. “It's our league to win. Coming down from the South Coast League last year we were predicted to win (the Sea View League title). The entire season we always knew it’s ours to lose.
“We're the best team out there, and we're just going to play like we are.”
Dana Hills’ record took a beating early in the season, but the team gained confidence in losses to Trabuco Hills, Fountain Valley, Troy and JSerra. They only time the Dolphins looked outmatched was in a 42-14 loss to San Clemente.
“We played a great preseason schedule against a lot of tough teams,” Dana Hills second-year coach Todd Rusinkovich said. “The players just continued to work hard and get better.
“We were finally peaking once Sea View League started, and that was kind of our goal to prepare all preseason and make sure we're prepared and ready to make a strong impact in our first time in the Sea View League.”
Dana Hills got its first victory of the season against Irvine, 22-7, on Sept. 28, but the following week in the Sea View League opener against Aliso Niguel was when the Dolphins showed how much fight they still had left.
Starting running back Marcus Hughes went down because of an injury in the first half of the game and sophomore Brian Scott, the younger brother of Justin, replaced Hughes in the backfield. Scott opened the second half with a 77-yard touchdown run and helped the Dolphins erase a 12-point halftime deficit. They beat the Wolverines, 20-18, as Scott finished with 216 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
“I always knew that he had it in him,” Justin said of his brother. “He's a great runner. He hits the hole hard. I couldn't be more proud of him and the way he has been playing this season.”
Brian followed his coming out party against Aliso Niguel by rushing for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 31-0 victory over Capistrano Valley on Oct. 12.
“I'm extremely fortunate and honored to coach the Scott brothers,” Rusinkovich said. “Justin Scott is one of our starting linebackers and Brian Scott was actually a starting linebacker before we moved him over to running back. Both are 4.0 GPA students, so they get it done in the classroom and on the playing field.
“Brian Scott is just a great kid, a really hard-working kid. He's very smart. You only have to tell him one time. He's very coachable. he gets it done. He's an outstanding running back with great vision, great footwork and he's able read his way through gaps and through his holes, and then he's able to break it at the end.”
Another big key to Dana Hills’ turnaround has been the outstanding play of its defense.
“We switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 to highlight the personnel we have,” Rusinkovich said. “We made some adjustments with what we're doing with that. In every game we've run our 4-3, we've won, so that's been a positive thing.
“We're just making adjustments and players continue to get better and grow as the season progresses. We had a lot of new guys at the beginning of the season in some different spots, new starters and we were kind of getting them adjusted to where they needed to be. As they continued to grow and get better, Dana Hills continued to grow and get better. They are just a great hard-working group of kids.”
Dana Hills is coming off a bye week, but Justin said that won't hurt the team's momentum going into this week’s game and its regular-season finale next week against San Juan Hills.
“I think we've been as focused as we have been for the last few games, if not even more focused right now," he said.
It's all about the finish, and Dana Hills is ready for that final push.
“The coaches just kept saying, ‘It's not how you start, it's how you finish,’ ” Brian said. “We've been building on that ever since.”
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