Mark Speckman knows what Central Catholic is in for when the Raiders meet nationally ranked De La Salle on Friday in Concord.
Although it was more than two decades ago when his Merced High Bears played the Spartans in a home-and-away series in 1991 and 1992, Speckman clearly recalled those games — both ending in Merced losses.
“We had more bodies on our team but they were a lean machine,” Speckman said this week. “Every guy could play. They didn’t really have any surprises. They just out-executed us.”
In the 1991 35-21 defeat at Merced, De La Salle ended the Bears’ 28-game winning streak. A year later, the Spartans’ 34-14 victory over Merced in Concord began its national-record 151-game winning streak.
The game in Merced was huge given the Bears’ streak and De La Salle coming in with a 28-game win streak of its own. De La Salle was ranked No. 1 in Northern California and the Bears No. 2.
“The game was really hyped,” Speckman said. “It was uncommon for teams to play outside their section. The place was packed and their congressman flew in in a helicopter and landed in Merced.”
It actually landed in a field in what is now classrooms at Merced College.
The Spartans had a junior wide receiver named Amani Toomer, who would go on to play for the University of Michigan and the New York Giants and is currently the organization’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
Toomer had seven catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in De La Salle’s road win over Merced.
The Spartans led 21-7 at halftime, with Merced’s touchdown coming on a 70-yard run by Anthony Volsan. De La Salle recovered a fumble right before halftime and scored a touchdown with 13 seconds left.
“It was a great experience,” said Speckman, adding that the Spartans run the same veer offense today that it ran when his Bears played them.
Kevin Swartwood, principal at Golden Valley High School, was the offensive coordinator for the Bears during that time.
“From an offensive standpoint, (De La Salle’s) defense was not complicated at all,” he said. ““They didn’t have multiple fronts or playbooks and didn’t change personal a lot. They just gave a tremendous effort into every down.”
The next year, in Concord, De La Salle began its infamous streak with the 20-point victory in a game that saw the Bears turn the ball over three times.
“They had just lost to Pittsburg in the section title,” Speckman said. “They were a power.”
As the Bears entered De La Salle’s stadium, Swartwood wasn’t exactly impressed.
“Pregame, my first thought was that it was a small little stadium,” Swartwood said. “When we warming up, it became a packed house. It (playing De La Salle) made us better.”
The only other area teams De La Salle played are Ceres in 1980 (De La Salle won 43-16) and Tracy in 1994 (De La Salle won 55-19) and 1995 (De La Salle won 68-14)