11/28/15- The two best players in City Section Division III all season have been running back Erik Diaz of Belmont and quarterback David Rothenberg of Hollywood.
Incredibly, both went down with injuries in the first quarter on Friday night in their respective semifinal games and their teammates somehow found a way to win.
Diaz was replaced by sophomore Isaiah Chatman, who scored a touchdown running and receiving in Belmont's 23-22 win over West Adams.
Rothenberg was replaced by sophomore Ray Hardy, who passed for three touchdowns in Hollywood's 20-7 win over Manual Arts.
"It's flabbergasting," Belmont Coach Gregg Barden said of the injuries. "It shows the resiliency of the two teams."
It remains to be seen if either will be able to play in next Saturday's 11 a.m. final at Cerritos College.
Diaz suffered a shoulder injury. He's expected to receive treatment this week and might make it back.
Rothenberg is on crutches after his Achilles was stepped on by a cleat. His availability is doubtful.
10/30/15- It was Halloween eve on Friday night in Hollywood, and everything looked normal. Marilyn Monroe, holding a red umbrella, was greeting tourists with a seductive "Hello there." Batman was posing for photos. A man carrying multiple snakes was assuring everyone they don't bite.
But the most stunning scene was taking place at Hollywood High, where the unbeaten Sheiks were playing unbeaten Belmont in a football game no one ever dreamed possible.
Belmont, which opened in 1923, has never won a City Section football title and last won a league title in 1993. Hollywood, the school of Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Carol Burnett, last won a City title in 1927 and hasn't won a league title since 1978.
Belmont's star player, running back-cornerback Erik Diaz, might never have been playing football. He was a club soccer player who was accidentally placed in a football P.E. class as a sophomore and ended up liking it and staying.
So there he was late Friday night, exhausted and lying on the turf as teammates jumped up and down around him celebrating a 7-6 victory over Hollywood to improve to 9-0 and clinch at least a tie for the Central League title.
"It's just amazing how it all turned out," said Diaz, who scored his team's only touchdown on a 65-yard run at the outset of the third quarter to wipe out a 6-0 halftime deficit and then kicked the winning extra point.
Then he looked around and saw the Hotel Roosevelt and El Capitan Theatre overlooking Hollywood's all-weather field on a clear, breezy night and figured out he just had a Hollywood ending in Hollywood.
Belmont's rise behind third-year Coach Gregg Barden is another story. He spent 19 quiet years as an unknown junior varsity coach, then got hired as head coach in May 2013. Soon afterward he was selected as the jury foreman for the Michael Jackson wrongful-death civil trial against AEG that lasted five months and thrust him in front of hundreds of media at the conclusion when the 12-person jury awarded zero money to the Jackson family.
"I lost my summer," he said.
Diaz rushed for 167 yards in 23 carries and also was a key tackler on defense in trying to contain Hollywood quarterback David Rothenberg, who rushed for 124 yards and scored his team's only touchdown on its first possession, running five yards for the score.
Rothenberg had never played football until his senior year, even though he was one of the best athletes at Hollywood. He has led the Sheiks to an 8-1 record and there's every indication these two upstart teams could meet again in the City Section Division III final on Dec. 5 at Cerritos College.
See the game highlights at: http://touch.latimes.com/#section/626/video/p2p-84883306/
9/26/15- Erik Diaz is the accidental football player who has helped lead Belmont High, more known for its soccer and cross country success, to a 4-0 start and a No. 1 ranking in City Section Division III.
Diaz is one of the top soccer players in the City Section. As a sophomore, he was put into a seventh period football class by mistake. He decided to stay, work out and ended up liking it.
"It was an accident that turned out pretty good," he said.
During the week, he has a couple double practices, working out with the football team, then leaving to work out with his club soccer team. He also maintains a 3.9 grade-point average.
“He started playing football as a hobby and found out he was pretty good at it,” Coach Gregg Barden said.
This season as a senior, he has rushed for more than 500 yards, scored 15 touchdowns and added two more touchdowns on interception returns.
He’s hoping to land a college scholarship for soccer but is enjoying his football experience.
Asked what’s better, getting a touchdown or scoring a goal, Diaz said, “The feeling is greater in football because of the excitement the team builds up and you can hear the crowd. It’s a different atmosphere.”
Belmont has never won a City title in football, but this season could be different. There's lots of experience. Linebacker Bryan Hernandez, who's only 5 feet 6, receiver Carlos Castillo and lineman Gerardo Chanax have also made major contributions.
Barden is an interesting case study in that he has been at Belmont for 23 years and spent 19 years as the junior varsity coach. "I was very happy doing JV," he said. "It never occurred to me moving up."
He was asked to take over the varsity in 2013.
Now with a soccer player leading the way, there's fun times at Belmont High.