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WEEK FIVE HS FOOTBALL: Valley Christian still searching for light at end of tunnel

By Loren Kopff

Murphy’s Law was definitely in effect for Valley Christian’s football team in the month September. Since an opening season victory against Duarte back on Aug. 31, the Crusaders lost four in a row last month, including last Friday night’s 45-7 thrashing by Northwood at Crusader Field.
During the four games in September, in which the running clock was used in the fourth quarter, V.C. head coach Erick Streelman has seen his team score 37 points, lose six fumbles, throw four interceptions and watched one key player after another go down with an injury. Against Ontario Christian, the Crusaders lost senior Brandon Bynum, their leading wide receiver and defensive player. Against Northwood, senior quarterback Patrick Avila injured his right knee early in the third quarter following a 13-yard run. He would not return the rest of the game.
“We’re working,” he said. “We’re trying to stay positive. It’s tough when we lose our best player last week and we lose [senior quarterback] Patrick [Avila] tonight. It’s not like we’re playing great with those guys anyways. The only thing you can do is go back to work on Monday and just try to get better.”
The Crusaders held the ball for nearly half of the first quarter but gained 37 yards, all on the ground, turned the ball over once and were flagged four times for 31 yards. It went from bad to worse in the second quarter as the Timberwolves scored 24 points, including two touchdowns off of two fumbles and had three personal foul penalties. When the game had reached halftime, Northwood had a commanding 31-0 lead and was outgaining V.C. 226-91.
But the Crusaders began the second half with their longest drive of the game with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 5:47. All of the plays were rushes as sophomore Jonathan Nicholson, a recent junior varsity call-up because of the injuries, picked up 46 yards on five carries including an 18-yard touchdown run. He would finish the game with 102 yards on 17 carries, the first time this season a V.C. running back had eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
“I think he’s done a great job since he came up from the j.v. [team],” Streelman said. “He runs really hard, especially for a sophomore.”
The key play of that drive came on fourth and four from the V.C. 40-yard line. Avila picked up eight yards on a bootleg keeper around the left side. Nicholson’s touchdown also came on fourth and 10.
The Crusaders had a chance to score again late in the third quarter following a 61-yard run from senior running back Stephan Cousineau, putting the ball at the five-yard line. However, a third lost fumble was picked up by Northwood’s Chandler Gaspar, who went 95 yards the other way for an apparent score. An illegal block in the back penalty brought it back but the previously winless Timberwolves eventually scored off of that turnover four minutes into the fourth quarter.
V.C. was held to 12 plays and 70 yards following Nicholson’s touchdown. Cousineau picked up 72 yards on three carries while junior running back David Lutu added 34 yards on 10 carries. Cousineau and junior Kendahl Jordan, who replaced Avila at quarterback, each led the defense with seven tackles while seniors Clayton Granch, celebrating his 18th birthday, and Anthony Paul both had five tackles.
“Especially without Brandon, we’re trying to run the ball and control the clock,” Streelman said of his offense. “You can’t march backwards and you can’t turn the ball over. When we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we actually put some nice drives together. But it looked like every time we got something going, we fumble. You can’t win like that.”
V.C.’s home game with Rancho Christian tonight was cancelled. The second-year school out of Temecula was fielding a varsity team for the first time but the Eagles cancelled the rest of their schedule after then-head coach Kenric Jameison was relieved of his duties following their first game of the season. V.C. will next be in action on Oct. 12 at Village Christian in the Olympic League opener.
“The silver lining is we have a chance to rest up and get healthy,” Streelman said. “Obviously we would like to play because we have a lot of stuff to work on. But we’ll try to rest up, get healthy, keep getting better and get ready for league.”