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By Loren Kopff
Through the first three games of the season, the strength of Valley Christian’s offense had been its rushing game, averaging over 236 yards a game. But when the Crusaders hosted longti
me rival Ontario Christian last Friday night, they were stopped dead in their tracks for the first 37 minutes.
V.C. was able to rush for 140 yards in the fourth quarter alone, but it was too little, too late as the Knights came away with a 23-7 victory. It was the 41st game in the 40th year (there were two games in the 1984 season) in what is dubbed “The Classic” with the Crusaders still owning a 26-14-1 mark. It was also the first experience of this rivalry for V.C. first-year head coach Woodie Grayson, who saw his team fall to 1-3.
“It’s big,” Grayson said. “Forty years of history and lots of stories. You have [former Valley Christian head] coach [Mike] Wunderley who came here and talked to the guys and explained to them a little about the rivalry. It was great to see the size of the crowd and to hear all of the guys coming back and talking about it. It’s a very big deal and I’m glad to finally get my feet wet in it and I look forward to doing it again next year.”
The Knights began the game on an 11-play, 84-yard drive that lasted just over four minutes and ended with a five-yard touchdown run from Josh Bayliss. Despite the Crusaders going three and out twice in the opening quarter, the game was still within reach for the hosts, even after Brandon Hatfield booted a 42-yard field goal early in the second quarter. V.C. trailed 10-0 at the half but punted on all five possessions, gained only 33 yards, all through the air, and did not get past its own 38-yard line.
“They did a great job up front and controlling the line of scrimmage,” Grayson said. “We just couldn’t get it started and that forced us to the air a little bit. My hat’s off to [Ontario Christian]. They did a great job of just playing well up front. They won the game in the trenches.”
The game began to get out of reach for the Crusaders in the third quarter when Hatfield connected on another field goal, this one from 27 yards out, after the Crusaders punted for the sixth straight time. Then after a 12-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Trent Berkenkamp, junior quarterback Jack Struiksma was picked off by Bryan Zarate. That turnover would eventually lead to a Bayliss five-yard score with 4:03 left in the third quarter and the Knights increased their margin to 20-0.
It was at this point that the Crusaders were in jeopardy of being blanked by the Knights for the fourth time in the rivalry and first since 1993. V.C. reached its 38-yard line late in the stanza after a six-yard reception from junior wide receiver Aaron Kirchner. But the hosts would be forced to punt again early in the fourth quarter.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Crusaders had 72 yards passing and just two yards on the ground. Hatfield booted another field goal with 10:38 left in the game before V.C.’s ground game finally woke up. On the sixth play of the ensuing drive, senior running back Adam Range gained eight yards to move the team to its 40-yard line, the farthest to that point it had advanced. A fumble at the six-yard line ended that drive but the Crusaders had one more chance.
With the ball at its own 11-yard line and 91 seconds left in the game, Range busted loose for a 56-yard run, followed by a 17-yard gain. Then with 48.6 seconds remaining, Struiksma hooked up with junior tight end Kyle Westra for a 16-yard score.
“In a normal game, you play the two’s,” Grayson said. “In a rivalry game, you don’t get shutout. It’s that simple. We were determined to get something going and put something on the board just because of the rivalry.”
Range ended with 112 yards on nine carries while Struiksma was 11 of 29 for 92 yards. Westra also led the defense with eight tackles. V.C. will visit St. Anthony tonight at Clark Field. The Saints (3-1) are the fourth-ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Northeast Division top 10 poll.
“It’s not going to get easier,” Grayson said. “Next week we play an athletic St. Anthony team. I think what we learned is that we can’t be one dimensional. We have to mix it up and keep teams off-balanced offensively.”
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