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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW – Valley Christian football takes the improbable magic journey to the Antelope Valley

Standing on the field of the Rose Bowl during the CIF-Southern Section’s 46th Championship Football Press Conference and Luncheon, representing Valley Christian High (left to right), are junior Tyler Hayes, junior Isaiah Jordan, senior Major Brown, first-year head coach Nicholas Walker, junior Joe DeYoung, senior Nick Bozanic, sophomore Jojo Apisala and senior Micah Maurer. The Defenders will face Lancaster High on Saturday for the Division 12 championship. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

NOVEMBER 24, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

On Aug. 19, Valley Christian High first-year head coach Nick Walker was greeted with a 35-0 loss to El Dorado High and the quarterbacking duties were shared by senior Kaden Struiksma and sophomore Keiran Edmundson. The Defenders would win two of their first eight games, both against ABC Unified School District foes, and ended the regular season in fifth place in the new football-only Ironwood League.

But three straight wins and four in the last five games have landed the maroon and gold into the CIF-Southern Section Division 12 championship game. The Defenders (6-7), seeded second in the division, will visit top-seeded Lancaster High (8-5) on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. For V.C., with a 2021 enrollment of nearly 600, it’s the sixth time in school history the program has played for a championship, having won it in 1985, 1994 and 2016.

“I said we can go 1-9 or 9-3,” Walker recalled. “It can go any way, and it didn’t go either way. It just went our way. You look at it and you’re like, ‘oh man, this is how it’s supposed to end; this is how it’s supposed to be’. It’s magic man, it’s magic.”

For Lancaster, it hasn’t had much of a football history as the school, with an enrollment of over 2,600 in 2021, was founded in 1995, snapped a streak of 14 straight losing seasons with its eight wins. During that futility streak, Lancaster had not won more than three games in any season. In a way, both teams are the same in 2022, but in a way, they are not.

Both have allowed more points than points scored with V.C.’s highest output coming in a 46-5 win on Sept. 16 while the Defenders have yielded over 30 points five times, including a 35-34 double overtime victory in the second round. The team has been paced by junior quarterback Joe DeYoung (1,359 yards, nine touchdowns), sophomore running back Jojo Apisala (729 yards, 10 touchdowns), senior wide receivers Casey Bouma (54 receptions, 892 yards, five touchdowns), Micah Maurer (30 receptions, 485 yards, six touchdowns) and Nick Bozanic (17 receptions, 471 yards, four touchdowns). Junior wide receiver Isaiah Jordan also hauled in 30 catches for 411 yards and scored three times.

On defense, Apisala and Bouma have been all over the field, recording 135 and 103 tackles respectively while freshman middle linebacker Cole Hefner is next with 82 tackles. The Defenders have sacked opposing quarterbacks 34 times by 10 different players with Apisala leading the way with eight, followed by half a dozen from senior lineman Johnny Miller.

“I was trusting the process,” said Apisala of the team’s slow start. “I would say it’s a building year and I would say we were just finding our foundation with new coaches, new staff, new players. We’re a very young team; we have only six seniors on the team. I still have hope for the next coming years.”

Lancaster played all 10 regular season games against teams from the Antelope Valley or the high desert and began the season with a blowout shutout loss to Serrano High and two straight one-possession setbacks. The Eagles then alternated the next three games with a pair of shutouts and a whitewash to Quartz Hill High. In fact, Lancaster was shutout three times, giving up 139 points in those games while blanking two opponents by a combined score of 74-0. The second place team from the Golden League team, shared with Palmdale High, scored at least 40 points three times, but allowed over 30 points in four of the five losses.

The Eagles have run the ball nearly twice as much than they have passed for as Ashton Mitchell has gained 1,168 yards on 173 carries with 10 touchdowns scored. The next leading rusher is quarterback Cedric SaMarion, who has 646 yards and six scores. He has also passed for 1,157 yards and 13 touchdowns and his favorite target is Chowlyn Hughes (31 receptions, 663 yards, seven touchdowns).

“They’re going to lay on us,” said Walker. They have big linemen; they’re going to lay on us. But ultimately, we’re going to out-speed them. That’s what we’re going to do. And that’s just being honest with you. We’re faster than any team in our division.”

“It feels unreal,” said Apisala. “I’m very excited and I’m very blessed to say I’m headed to the championship [game].”

Prediction: Lancaster 35, V.C. 34

Last week: 1-0

Season to date: 46-19-1

CROSS COUNTRY

The V.C. boys finished in seventh place in the CIF-SS championships last Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College and advanced to the state championships on Saturday at Woodward Park in Fresno. The Defenders, who picked up 201 team points, were the last Division 5 team to qualify for the state championships. Senior Matthew Kubler finished in third place with a time of 15:37 while sophomore Jack Gisler (34th, 17:17) was the next V.C. runner to cross the line. Rounding out the rest of team are seniors Peter Kolostian and Steven Nour, juniors Caleb O’Conner and Matthew Vreeke and freshman Wyatt Barker.

The Norwalk girls, competing in Division 3, also ran at the divisional finals and picked up 360 team points. Senior Gabriela Felix finished in 37th place with a time of 19:48 while the next Lancer runner was senior Evelyn Mejia (68th, 20:51). Three of the other five Norwalk runners are seniors.

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