It’s still one of the most talked about high school football games in local history.
And Zavien Watson has seemingly heard about it every day of his life.
Watson has been reminded of the record so often that one of his goals has been to break the mark before finishing his career at Cathedral Catholic High.
But Watson is running out of time.
“I’ve wanted to break dad’s record for so long,” he said. “My dad is a pretty quiet guy, but that record comes up a lot.
“Sophomore year, I scored five touchdowns in the first half of a game, but they took me out at halftime.”
That’s as close as he’s gotten to beating dad.
Watson’s father, E.J. Watson, was a star running back for La Jolla back in the early 1990s who led the Vikings to the San Diego Section 2A championship game.
In the semifinals, a thick fog bank rolled into Carmel Valley, where the Vikings played San Pasqual at Torrey Pines High.
By the time the game ended, La Jolla edged the Eagles 50-49 to advance to the finals.
E.J. Watson scored seven touchdowns, though not many spectators at that game saw all of them.
Watson’s seven-TD outing is still a section record, shared with nine other runners.
Though Zavien has committed to play baseball at Arizona, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior remains focused on his football goals of winning the Western League crown, another section title and a state championship.
He’s also still eyeing dad’s record.
Zavien replaced all-section running back Shawn Poma, who averaged 10.2 yards a carry while rushing for 1,413 yards and scoring 17 TDs last season.
Watson has 155 carries for 1,041 yards (6.7-yard average) and 13 TDs heading into Friday’s game against rival St. Augustine.
“Shawn was a one-of-a-kind running back who could outrun you or make a move and make you look silly,” Cathedral quarterback DJ Ralph said. “Z is not a one-trick pony. He’s a big power back who can really punish defensive players.”
Coach Sean Doyle was saddened by Poma’s graduation from a Dons team that lost in the state championship game last fall, but he was relieved that Watson was back.
“Zavien knew he had to wait his turn at running back,” said Doyle, who was the Dons’ defensive coordinator in ’91 when they played against E.J. Watson and lost 24-20. “He did a phenomenal job during that time.
“I told him all the time he was the best scout team running back in the county.”
That has translated into a powerful force this season.
Watson, however, still had to deal with the two-year wait for his chance to shine.
“It was a struggle, I won’t lie,” Watson said. “I didn’t expect to play sophomore year, but I was the last one standing when Shawn got hurt.
“Last year I tried to perfect my game to get ready for this season and prove what I did sophomore year wasn’t a fluke.
“I’m a ground-and-pound-type back who will get five to seven yards every time and then break a big one either by working through you or around you.”
Even now that he is finally the man whom the offense depends on, Watson was nervous at the beginning of the season as the Dons posted a 5-1 nonleague record before opening league play with wins over Point Loma and Madison.
“I’ve been dreaming about this moment since we lost last year’s state finals,” he said. “I worked really hard to replace Shawn.
“I think this year is a better role for me. I love being THE running back behind our offensive line. They make my job so much easier.”
Watson is sure his future lies in baseball, hitting .322 and .333 the last two seasons, respectively, for the Dons.
“If I have to give up football in college, I’ll miss it,” said Watson, a third baseman who will play shortstop this spring. “I started playing kind of late in eighth grade, but it would be different without any football.”
By the way, E.J. Watson’s team lost the 2A finals to El Camino 29-7 in 1991.
Zavien Watson’s team won the Open Division title last year with a 28-17 win over Torrey Pines, giving him one more title than dad won.
Who: Parochial school rivals St. Augustine vs. Cathedral Catholic
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Cathedral Catholic
Records: Saints (6-1, 1-0 Western League); Dons (7-1, 2-0)
Series: Dons lead 34-22
Monahan is a freelance writer.