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WEEK ZERO FOOTBALL Valley Christian bolts out to big lead, holds on against Duarte in opener behind Nicholson

 PHOTO BY MIKE ZOETEWEY   Valley Christian sophomore right guard Eric Schoonover provides ample room for senior running back Jonathan Nicholson to pick up some yards in last Friday night's season-opening 50-6 win over Duarte. Nicholson rushed for 146 yards on 16 carries and scored four touchdowns.

PHOTO BY MIKE ZOETEWEY Valley Christian sophomore right guard Eric Schoonover provides ample room for senior running back Jonathan Nicholson to pick up some yards in last Friday night’s season-opening 50-6 win over Duarte. Nicholson rushed for 146 yards on 16 carries and scored four touchdowns.

By Loren Kopff

Valley Christian senior running back Jonathan Nicholson touched the ball on the first play of his team’s season opener against Duarte last Friday night at Crusader Field.
However, it wasn’t a rushing play nor did he catch a pass.
That would come on the very next play as he broke loose for a 46-yard gain around the right side. Four plays after that, he would score the first of his four touchdowns as the Crusaders routed the Falcons 50-6. The outcome was never in doubt, unlike last season’s opener against Duarte in which V.C. wasted a 14-0 first quarter lead and a 21-7 halftime advantage in a 28-24 loss.
This time, the hosts scored on their first three drives of the opening quarter. Then after Duarte’s lone score with 23.2 seconds left in the opening stanza, the Crusaders didn’t allow the Falcons to cross midfield until the third quarter, by which time V.C. was comfortably ahead 36-6.
“When we looked back at last year’s film, what we really saw was we really didn’t play well in that game,” said V.C. head coach Woodie Grayson. “They gave us some opportunities which we took advantage of. But they really controlled that game last year. So, we just challenged them to play well and then finish and they did that tonight. They rose to the challenge.”
Nicholson, who gained 1,339 yards last season, recovered a fumble by his own teammate on the first play of the game but finished the six-play drive with a three-yard score. On V.C.’s fourth play of the second possession, he found the end zone again as he rumbled in from 14 yards out. When the first quarter had concluded, Nicholson had already gained 117 yards on eight carries. He would finish the contest with 146 yards on 16 touches and sat out the entire fourth quarter with the game being played under running clock conditions.
“My line was blocking for me today and I’m really grateful for that,” Nicholson said. “I just got the ball and found a hole. They just opened it up for me and I just did the rest. We’re going to have a long season, but I trust them and I trust them to block for me.”
With 88 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, senior wide receiver Kent Running hauled in a 17-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Will Brines, who would also add a two-point conversion for a 22-0 lead. Brines would complete all five of his passes for 76 yards and shared the passing duties with senior Jack Struiksma, who was four of six for 96 yards. At one point, those two combined to complete their first eight passes.
“We would like to be balanced but it doesn’t always work that way,” Grayson said. “But we feel like we have a number of guys who can do some things with the ball. We’re not as balanced tonight as we would like to be. But we think we’ll get more balanced as we go forward.”
“We’re running some of our option this year, so when we run our option, [coach] Grayson likes to put in Will just because he likes to run the ball,” Nicholson said. “With Jack, you put him in, he throws those long balls and [the receivers] are gone. It’s even-even.”
Nicholson would score a pair of touchdowns in the final 3:48 of the first half-a six-yard score followed by a 10-yard jaunt after a fumbled snap on a punt attempt gave the Crusaders great field position.
Brines would intercept an Isaiah Scott pass three and a half minutes into the third quarter and V.C. capitalized on the miscue not once, but twice. First, senior Brian Cok recovered a fumble after the Crusaders were forced to punt. Then after a Nicholson four-yard run and a 20-yard reception from senior tight end Kyle Westra, Brines scored from six yards out to make it 43-6. The last touchdown of the night came on a 61-yard run from junior running back Quaid Kawana. In all, V.C. racked up 438 yards but had nearly 100 yards more rushing than passing. The 50 points scored were the most by the Crusaders in either the month of August or September since blasting the Falcons 54-0 on Sept. 27, 2002. In fact, since 2002, the Crusaders have scored at least 50 points nine times.
“This year we have a few seniors on the line because we had a lot of seniors from last year who [graduated],” Nicholson said. “The run game is just a lot stronger this year. We have more experienced players this time and I just think we’re going to have a great season.”
The Falcons were held to less than 200 yards on the night as senior defensive back Chandler Vos posted seven tackles while Running and junior defensive end Matt Sigala each added five tackles.
“One of the things that we felt was going to be a key was we knew they would have trouble blocking us up front because we thought we were bigger and more physical that we were last year,” Grayson said. “We were just worried about them going over the top of our heads, which they did that one time. But we knew against the run, our defense would be solid.”
Next up for the Crusaders will be a home meeting with Cerritos tonight. Last season, V.C. trailed the Dons 16-7 after the first quarter before rallying for a 42-28 win. It will be the season opener for Cerritos, which comes off a 2-8 season.
“That was a football team that was playing on emotion for one quarter,” Grayson said of last season’s game. “They hadn’t played football as a program on the varsity level for a year. So they were basically learning how to play. They have a year under their belts. They’re big; they’re going to be physical. They know their system. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”