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WEEK TWO FOOTBALL: Valley Christian unable to get ground game going, fades in second half against Portola

Valley Christian High sophomore quarterback Colin Abrahams hands off to senior running back Jarvis Hudnall in last Friday night’s contest against Portola High. Hudnall was limited to 36 yards on nine carries as the Defenders were doubled up by the Bulldogs 34-17. V.C. fell to 1-2 on the season. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

After a blowout loss to St. Anthony High to open the season, Valley Christian High rebounded with a 35-point victory the following week against Lancaster High. The Defenders were trying to make it two in a row last Friday night as they hosted Portola High, a school in its fourth year of existence.

However, the young and inexperienced Defenders, with only 12 seniors on a team of 41 players, could not keep up with the Bulldogs in the second half and fell 34-17 at V.C. Stadium. Not only were the Defenders outscored 20-9 in the second half, they had little success running the ball, gaining 23 yards on 24 carries with seven of those going for negative yardage.

“There were a couple of missteps on offense in the first quarter, but we started to recover,” said V.C. first-year head coach Bill Garner. “Between some misfires in the first quarter and way too many missed tackles, this game is very different.”

After going three and out on the game’s first drive, the Irvine-based school, which opened with 400 freshmen for the 2016-2017 school year and added a grade classification each year since, got on the board as Trevor Yue capped off a seven-play drive with a five-yard touchdown run.

The Defenders would then go on a long drive themselves, going 79 yards on eight plays highlighted by a 22-yard pass play from sophomore quarterback Colin Abrahams to senior wide receiver Andrew Lange on fourth and five. That put the ball at the Portola one-yard line where a fumble on the next play ended that opportunity. 

While the Bulldogs wouldn’t score off that turnover, they would make it 14-0 nearly midway through the second quarter when Brandon Yue tossed a short six-yard score to Jared Van Haeren. V.C. bounced back on the ensuing drive and needed five plays to go 79 yards, capped off with a Abrahams to Lange connection of 58 yards.

By halftime, Abrahams had thrown for 136 yards on six of nine passing but the rushing game was unable to get started. In fact, the longest run in the first half was seven yards by senior Jarvis Hudnall, which came on the first play of V.C.’s second possession.

“I don’t know if it’s a lack of a running game as much as I think that they were respecting our running game from last week,” Garner said. “I think they showed up with an idea about what they wanted to take away. And, that’s fine; it’s a game of adjustments. So, we adjusted and went to the air. I think you could see that we can have some success in the air as well.”

The turning point of the game, according to Garner, came when Portola began the second half by engineering a nine-play, 67-yard drive, all on runs, which ended when Nova Kebeli went in from six yards. The Defenders would answer and went from their 26-yard line to the Portola 21-yard line on six plays. Then, Abrahams was picked off by Eric Streletz at the one-yard line. But a pass interference call negated that play and V.C. was back in business where it eventually had to settle for a 30-yard field goal from sophomore Noah Glonchak.

Portola added to its lead three plays after the field goal and while the Defenders had 11 plays combined on their next two possessions, they put together their longest drive of the game to end the game’s scoring. Following a one-yard sneak by Brandon Yue to make it 34-11 with 4:58 remaining, the hosts put together a 12-play, 67-yard rive that ended with a six-yard run by junior Luca Caldarella.

While Hudnall gained 36 yards on nine carries, Abrahams carried the bulk of the yardage, passing for 288 yards on 19 completions in 29 attempts. His favorite target was Lange, who caught six passes for 147 yards and the one touchdown. 

“The cool thing about it is that Andrew has been kind of just in the background so far this season,” Garner said. “A couple of touches here and there, but other guys have had much bigger games. So tonight, it was obvious that they were looking at certain guys. They were not paying attention to Andrew and he was able to capitalize on it.”

Sophomore wide receiver Rocco Caldarella hauled in seven receptions for 69 yards while three other players caught at least one pass. 

“This game was about what we didn’t do right,” Garner said. “On defense, our scheme was great. We just had a problem tackling.”

Garner added that he likes how the team has become tougher since the St. Anthony game and says they just need the fire and focus to go together in every game. The Defenders, who had nine games on the docket when the season began, recently added CIF-Los Angeles City Section member Van Nuys High as a 10thgame. That matchup will be played tonight at V.C. Stadium. The Wolves are winless in two games and have been outscored 86-0.

“I don’t know a lot other than it’s a City Section team,” Garner said. “They were looking for a game, we were looking for a game and honestly, I hope we can be good hosts.”

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