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WEEK TEN FOOTBALL Time runs out on Valley Christian for Olympic League title

By Loren Kopff

Woodie Grayson, the first-year head coach of Valley Christian’s football team, had a feeling his Crusaders would be playing for an Olympic League title on the last week of the regular season. During the offseason, he and his coaching staff looked at last year’s film and knew Maranatha and Whittier Christian had good teams coming back for the 2013 campaign.

Grayson knew his Crusaders would have to beat one of those two to play in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Northwest Division playoffs, but to win a league crown, they would have to beat both of those teams.

V.C. defeated Whittier Christian on Oct. 11, the first of three wins in the past four weeks heading into last Friday night’s conquest with Maranatha at Crusader Field. But the Minutemen scored three touchdowns in the second quarter and held on for a 31-28 win. The game wasn’t decided until junior backup quarterback William Brines was intercepted at the V.C. 31-yard line with 29.1 seconds left in the game.

“These kids have been resilient all year through adversity, injuries and our own miscues,” Grayson said. “So it wasn’t surprising that they never quit playing. It’s easy to get down emotionally but you get a play that gets you back into it and they took advantage of it and we got back into [the game].”

The Crusaders wrapped up the regular season at 4-6 overall, 3-1 in the league and will visit La Puente tonight in a Northwest Division first round game.

V.C. dominated the first quarter on both sides of the ball. Junior running back Jonathan Nicholson scored on a 56-yard run on his team’s second play from scrimmage 76 seconds into the game. When the hosts got the ball back, they marched 51 yards on seven plays in 3:05, capped by a 22-yard score from junior quarterback Jack Struiksma to junior wide receiver Brian Cok.

The Crusaders outgained Maranatha 113-69 in the first quarter but the momentum quickly changed towards the tail end of the stanza. The Minutemen ran eight plays to end the opening quarter and on the first play of the second quarter, Caleb Devine scored from 18 yards out. Then after V.C. managed one yard on its next possession, a high snap on a punt attempt placed the ball at its four-yard line where Devine cashed in for the tying score.

Four plays later, a V.C. fumble at its own 43-yard line eventually led to a 16-yard touchdown pass from Eli Snyder to Joseph Karavedas. Devine would tack on another touchdown early in the third quarter but in between, V.C. was held to 19 yards, punted three times and turned the ball over three times.

“We’ve been getting off to slow starts, so, it was nice to get out to that lead,” Grayson said. “Things just didn’t go our way after that. We had a chance up 14-0 to kind of put one more in. We had the ball and we didn’t do anything with it and that left [Maranatha] a little bit of life and they took advantage of it.”

V.C. got back into the game when junior Aaron Kirchner recovered a fumble 18 seconds after Devine’s last touchdown. Nicholson scored from six yards out with 5:01 left in the third quarter to make it a 28-21 game. But the Minutemen chewed up the rest of the quarter and iced the game on a 27-yard field goal from Grant Schober.

The Crusaders did get a 20-yard touchdown run down the left sideline from senior running back Michael Douglas early in the fourth quarter, However, both teams played a game of field position the rest of the way and V.C. could not get closer than its 33-yard line.

Nicholson led V.C. with 120 yards on 19 carries while Struiksma completed eight passes for 71 yards. After that, the rest of the offense produced 31 yards. Brines led the defense with seven tackles while Kirchner and junior Kyle Westra each had six tackles. But the defense was also having a hard time stopping Devine (120 yards, 27 carries) or getting to Snyder, who was constantly camping out in Maranatha’s backfield waiting to make something happen. Snyder was 19 of 35 for 218 yards and found six different receivers.

“I thought we did a decent job on [Devine] in the first half,” Grayson said. “Their quarterback is an amazing kid. He made most of his plays this year outside of the pocket and making things happen as the play breaks down. We wanted to just keep him in the pocket and make him make plays.”

After going 3-7 last season and missing the playoffs for the second time since 2010, Grayson is confident his team can get past La Puente, which went 7-3 and finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Montview League.

“I think we’re playing better,” Grayson said. “We’re playing a lot better than we did earlier in the year. The main thing is we have a lot of fight. We’re playing with some confidence. I like where we are. If we get better next week, there’s no reason why we can’t win.”