The key number rumbling up and down the Valhalla High sidelines Friday was 35. As in the number of years the Norsemen have been playing varsity football.
A victory over host and top challenger Steele Canyon would mean the Norsemen could celebrate their first-ever Grossmont League football title – since 1975, the year the school swung its doors open for business. The players knew it. The coaches knew it. The Valhalla fans knew it.
Thanks to some clutch defensive work by the Norsemen, Valhalla was able to stave off Steele Canyon’s ball-control offense to gain a monumental 14-7 victory and claim that elusive first Grossmont South League crown. No matter what happens next week against Granite Hills, Valhalla remains the undisputed champion.
The outcome wasn't decided until the final 1:20, when the Norsemen's secondary delivered two key plays to thwart a desperation comeback by the Cougars. A controversial play on a pass that would have given Steele Canyon a first-and-goal at the Valhalla 7 with 1:20 left was ruled no catch by the officials.
"That was definitely a catch," Cougars coach Ron Boehmke said of an aerial from his son and quarterback Brad Boehmke to Taylor Mishler that would have covered 35 yards.
Valhalla safety Hanssell Wilson disagreed.
"We both had our hands on the ball, but I was able to strip it loose," Wilson told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "The ref made the right call."
The No. 9-ranked Norsemen (7-2, 4-0) wrapped up the Grossmont South title two plays later when Kweishi Brown intercepted a Boehmke pass with 55 seconds left.
"This is absolutely awesome," said Valhalla quarterback Pete Thomas, who snapped a 7-7 tie with a 65-yard TD pass to Jevon Hasten with 4:47 left in the third quarter. "No one in the 35 years of our school has ever experienced this moment before."
"It is right up there with going to the ‘Q’ last year," said Valhalla senior and Arizona State-bound quarterback Pete Thomas (12-of-20, 205 yards), referring to the Norsemen’s 49-13 loss to Cathedral Catholic at Qualcomm Stadium last season.
For whom the Bell tolls
No game in the San Diego CIF Section draws a bigger crowd than the Imperial Valley League’s annual Bell Game, pitting Brawley (8-1) against Central Union (7-2) on Friday in El Centro.
It couldn’t get any better than this for the promoters, as the season finale has the IVL title at stake, and will welcome an anticipated crowd of more than 7,000. You’d better get there early or you won’t find a parking spot. This is a game where the grandstands are filled an hour before kickoff. As is the case in most years, this contest is a winner-takes-all duel, as both teams are 4-0 in league play.
One of the longest-running high school rivalries in the nation, the Bell game was born in 1943 when the associated student bodies of the two schools jointly purchased "The Bell" from a ship in San Diego for $50. Brawley, winner of nine consecutive league championships, owns a 42-22-1 advantage over Central Union since this series has featured the Bell as a trophy.
According to reporter David Brown of The Westerly Sun newspaper in Rhode Island, the Brawley-Central rivalry started in 1921 and has reached 152 games (for many years the two played twice a year, which was discontinued in 2004). Brown also noted that the record for ‘longest’ rivalry belongs to Connecticut high schools New London and Norwich Free Academy, which began play in 1875. Westerly High has played Stonington High of Connecticut 143 times, making them the longest interstate rivalry.
Brawley has won 10 of the previous 12 league titles.
Oceanside victory wave rolls on
How good is Oceanside? In a battle of unbeaten teams, the Pirates pulverized Valley Center 45-7 to extend their winning streak to 12 games. More than that is Oceanside’s stretch without a loss is 34 contests, dating back to 2007.
Senior Noah Tarrant was a triple threat for Oceanside (9-0). Doubling as a running back and linebacker, Tarrant threw a touchdown pass, returned an interception for a score and ran back a punt for a touchdown. Oceanside (9-0) limited Valley Center (8-1) to 40 yards on 54 plays.
La Costa Canyon pushes win streak to 18
Nine Mavericks led by Seth Hanson (14 carries for 114 yards and three TDs) contributed to a steady running game that mustered 217 yards as La Costa Canyon steamrollered Fallbrook 41-7 to claim the Avocado League title while extending its winning streak to 18 games.
Olympian grows up fast
In just its third season of varsity football competition, Chula Vista Olympian is 9-0 and has clinched the South Bay League championship. Just two years ago, the Eagles finished 2-8, but rebounded to a 6-4 mark last year.
Other top performances
— Camarillo High quarterback Jeff Mathews completed 33-of-48 passes and broke the CIF-Southern Section’s single-game record for passing yards with 594 against Hueneme.
— San Diego Ramona’s Tyler Jackson scored four rushing touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 35-13 win over Westview.
— Westview’s Brenden Watson kicked field goals of 42 and 40 yards in the Wolverines’ loss to Ramona.
— Madison scored 40 points in the first quarter and continued on to a 61-0 rout of Crawford.
— Senior Michael Taele of Carlsbad rushed for 138 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries as the Lancers smoked Poway 42-10.
— Spring Valley Monte Vista’s Shervin Iraniha caught eight passes for 128 yards and two TDs against city rival Mount Miguel.
Rarely does the South Bay area of the San Diego CIF section command headline attention, but Friday’s regular-season finale in the Mesa League pitting Eastlake (7-0-2, 4-0) against visiting Chula Vista (6-3, 4-0) is worthy of bold type. In the northern region of the section, once-beaten Ramona (8-1, 4-1) challenges Oceanside (9-0, 5-0).
Sometimes allowing high school coaches the opportunity of making three appeals on close calls by the officials seems like a swell idea, such as in the NFL. But realistically, that’s not going to happen.
No matter how pivotal an official’s call at a high school game – whether right or wrong – it’s going to stand. Sure, coaches are going to review their films and complain to the powers that be about close calls. But nothing ever comes of it, even if they can prove it on film.
Now, that is frustrating. So what should be done?
First of all, we have to weigh the magnitude of the game and consider the undeniable factor of human error. In the NFL, there are national point spreads and big money involved. That’s why every play and every call is heavily scrutinized. In high school football, it’s all about learning and coping, even though the emotions are no less intense.