By Kevin Askeland
SAN JOSE - It couldn’t have been bleaker for the Valley Christian Warriors.
Already trailing 13-3 at halftime, Valley Christian fell behind 20-3 when Oak Grove’s Allen Chapman intercepted a Cory Gambello pass and returned 43 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second half.
But despite the 17-point deficit, the Warriors played nearly flawless football the rest of the way. Beset by turnovers and untimely holding penalties through the first 24 minutes of the game, Valley Christian regained the momentum with a stifling defense and a big-play offense to score 20 unanswered points and claim a 23-20 win over the top-seeeded Eagles at San Jose City College.
“Our defense played a phenomenal game,” coach Mike Machado said. “We had a lot of big plays called back by penalties and we were just hurting ourselves in the first half. But the defense played great the whole game.”
The Warrior defense limited Oak Grove to negative 4 yards of offense in the third quarter and that enabled Valley Christian to regain the battle for field position.
Part of Oak Grove’s problem was the loss of star running back Omari Carr. With close to 2,000 yards rushing on the season, Carr has been the focus of the Eagle running game all season long. But an ankle injury suffered late in the second quarter ended the night for Carr, who was taken to the hospital midway through the second half.
“Losing Omari obviously changed the way Ed (Buller) had to call the game, but I thought we did a pretty good job of defensing him from the start,” Machado said.
While the Oak Grove offense stalled, the Warrior offense began to roll. The Warriors answered Chapman’s interception return with an 8-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown run by Cameron Marshall.
The two teams traded possessions the rest of the quarter until Valley Christian embarked on a 67-yard drive that lasted just four plays. Gambello hit a wide open Daniel Johnson for the 40-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter and the Warriors were within five points, 20-15.
Oak Grove got just one first down on its next drive before punting the ball. Mishawn Cummings picked up the punt on one bounce and returned it 28 yards to midfield. Three plays later, Marshall ran around left end for a 44-yard touchdown run with 6:14 left in the game.
Marshall finished the game with 131 yards on 17 carries, but also had three long runs in the first half curt short by holding penalties.
Oak Grove had one last chance to regain the lead when it forced a Valley Christian punt with under two minutes to play. With the ball at the Valley Christian 29, Oak Grove quarterback Kenny Arechiga scrambled away from the Warrior pass rush and it looked like he might try to run for the first down. Instead, Arechiga threw a two-handed chest pass to Ronnie Isles, who eluded the defense and ran the remaining distance for an apparent touchdown.
However back at the 28 yard line, the head official stood at the spot where Arechiga threw the pass and pulled out his flag. Arechiga was judged to have been beyond the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass, thus negating the touchdown and pushing Oak Grove back five yards.
Arechiga was able to get off a 13-yard pass to Napolean Johnson at the 22 and the Eagles scrambled to get off a potential tying field goal before time ran out. However Alejandro Duarte, who had nailed two field goals earlier in the game, pulled a 38-yard kick to the right, giving possession to the Warriors.
The Warriors advance to play either Serra or Bellarmine for the Central Coast Section Open Division championship. Serra and Bellarmine play tonight at San Jose City College starting at 7 p.m.
Oak Grove took a 13-3 first-half lead on field goals of 31 and 42 yards by Duarte and a critical mistake by the Warriors.
Pinned deep in its own territory following a holding penalty, Valley Christian tried an option run. However Gambello’s pitch to Marshall missed the mark and Scotty Lawyer recovered for Oak Grove at the Valley Christian 8.
Four plays later, Anthony Dean scored on a 1-yard run to make the score 13-3 with 4:45 left in the half.
Valley Christian scored its only points in the first half on a 43-yard field goal by Phillip Trappas with 11:45 remaining in the second quarter.
The loss was the first of the season for Oak Grove, which ends the year with an 11-1 record. Valley Christian is 10-2.
Arechiga completed 15 of 21 passes for 110 yards. The Eagles had 229 yards of total offense. Gambello completed 7 of 15 passes for 98 yards and two interceptions.
Sacred Heart 28, Scott Valley 24
The Sacred Heart Prep Gators came up with two big defensive plays late in the fourth quarter to stave off a pair of Scotts Valley rallies and collect a 28-24 win in the Central Coast Section Small Schools Division semifinal at Westmont High School on Friday.
After taking a 28-24 lead with 6:50 left in the game on a 1-yard run by quarterback Ryan Sakowski, the Gators had to withstand a quick march downfield by the top-seeded Falcons. A 24-yard pass from Blake Jurich to Joey Bright put the ball at the 12 and two plays later Jurich attempted another pass into the end zone to Bright.
This time, however, Chris Cummings intercepted Jurich’s pass in the end zone to end the threat. Sacred Heart Prep had to punt after three plays, though, giving Scotts Valley one more chance.
The Falcons were able to move the ball to the Sacred Heart Prep 27 following the punt, but a fourth down halfback pass from Aldin Barrett back to Jurich gained just eight yards and the Gators took over on downs with 1:31 remaining.
Sakowski kneeled down three times to run out the clock and keep the Gators undefeated at 11-0-1. Sacred Heart Prep moves into the championship game against either Sacred Heart Cathedral or King’s Academy, which play today at Terra Nova High School in Pacifica.
Scotts Valley ends its season with a 10-2 record.
Both teams struggled to move the ball throughout the first half until Sacred Heart Prep scored on a 60-yard pass from Sakowski to Matt Bocci on a crossing pattern over the middle with 1:22 left in the half.
The second half proved to be more of an offensive showdown with the two teams matching each other score for score.
The Falcons regained the lead midway through the third period when Kyle Hardwick raced 39-yards behind the block of guard Chase Shepherd, who lined up in the backfield as a fullback.
Sacred Heart answered with a 79-yard drive that culminated in a 2-yard run by Bocci. Willie Lockwood’s third extra point put the Gators ahead 21-17.
Hardwick was nearly unstoppable, however, and the Falcons quickly regained the lead. Hardwick, who fumbled on his first carry of the game, made sure to make up for his early mistake. Putting two hands on the ball on each subsequent carry, Hardwick ran 30 times for 239 yards on the day, including all eight plays on Scotts Valley’s 65-yard drive to take a 24-21 lead. Hardwick scored on a 3-yard run with 9.8 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Gators embarked on a 14-play, 77-yard drive for the final touchdown of the game. Sakowski ran the final yard for the touchdown, but he set up the score with a 33-yard pass to Victor Ojeda that put the ball inside the 10-yard line.
Sakowski completed 8 of 11 passes for 200 yards in the game with one touchdown.
Sacred Heart Prep opened the scoring following Chris Gaertner’s recovery of a Hardwick fumble. Gaertner actually ripped the ball from Hardwick’s grasp and ran 20 yards to the Scotts Valley 16. Bocci scored five plays later on a 2-yard run.
The Falcons cut the Gators’ lead to 7-3 with a 28-yard field goal by Eric Brager early in the second quarter and then took the lead on their next possession on a 51-yard pass from Jurich to Bright. Jurich completed 9 of 22 passes on the day for 139 yards. Bright caught six passes for 113 yards.