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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION NORTHWEST DIVISION PLAYOFFS: Valley Christian gets a case of the first round Burns in playoff loss

By Loren Kopff


TEMECULA-Valley Christian was looking strong after the first two plays of its California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Northwest Division first round playoff game at Linfield Christian last Friday night. An interception and a touchdown within the first 23 seconds of the game put the Crusaders ahead.

But throughout the contest, the Crusaders had problems stopping the Lions’ Zac Archer and Lorenzo Burns and as a result, the second place representatives from the Olympic League fell to the Ambassador League co-champions 28-27. V.C. finishes the season at 7-4, its best record since 2009 when the Crusaders went 8-4.

On the first play of the game, senior defensive back Chandler Vos picked off Burns at the 36-yard line and returned it 18 yards. Following a false start penalty, senior running back Jonathan Nicholson cashed in from 18 yards to give the Crusaders a 7-0 lead.

But Burns and the Lions responded and chewed up nearly five minutes off the clock as the crafty quarterback eluded many would-be tackles down the left sideline and tied the game on a 25-yard run. The Crusaders, though, regained the lead 77 seconds later when senior tight end Kyle Westra received the ball from under center and pushed his way forward for a two-yard score. The extra point would be missed and that would play a key factor the rest of the game.

After both teams traded punts, Westra came up with V.C.’s second big defensive play of the game when he sacked Burns, who fumbled the ball, and senior defensive end Nate Aaronsen scooped up the pigskin and returned it to the Linfield Christian 12-yard line. On the next play, Nicholson scored to increase the margin to 20-7.

That’s when the tide shifted quickly in favor of the host Lions. Burns threw a 41-yard scoring strike to Brian Agapito with 7:15 remaining in the first half and following an interception from RyeZeir Wilkins, Burns found Isaiah Pate open for a 32-yard touchdown connection as Linfield Christian took a 21-20 lead with 2:08 left in the half.

“We had opportunities to really put some separation between us and [Linfield Christian] and we didn’t take advantage of it offensively,” said V.C. head coach Woodie Grayson. “We had a couple of nifty drives where we could have been up 28-7 at halftime or maybe 35-7. But instead, we were down.

“They made some adjustments after that first mistake with the pick in their offensive scheme,” he continued. “They found a way to move the ball a little bit and steady themselves and their run game did that. We didn’t tackle very well. Their kids ran a little tougher than we tackled.”

V.C. was held to 90 yards on the ground in the first half and had the ball for less than 10 minutes. But the Crusaders began the second half just as strong as it did to begin the game. The Crusaders ran seven plays to begin the third quarter and ended the drive when junior running back Quaid Kawana scored from 11 yards out, the only time he would touch the ball. However, the Lions roared back and used eight plays to score the game-winner, a 16yard run from Archer. He would finish the game with 75 yards while Burns led the Lions with 104 yards on 18 carries. In addition, Burns was 10 of 14 for 162 yards and at one point, connected on seven straight passes.

“[Archer] is a very hard, downhill runner,” Grayson said. “So he just exploded through holes before we could really get in position to make a tackle. [With Burns], we would be in position but he would just make us miss. And he has some ability to run tough to get the extra yards. Hats off to those two kids. Offensively, they carried the day for them.”

V.C. would have three more chances to take the lead again. First, sophomore defensive back R.J. Van Kampen intercepted a Burns pass at the Crusader’s 20-yard line with 4:11 left in the third quarter. But V.C. proceeded to go three and out. Then Michael Brown was wide on a 44-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. But the Crusaders had to punt again. Finally, the Lions were forced to punt with 4:24 left in the game and the Crusaders had the ball at their own 31-yard line.

V.C. moved the ball up the field on runs from Nicholson and junior running back Robert Downs., plus an 11-yard pass from senior quarterback Jack Struiksma to Aaronsen. But Struiksma was incomplete on fourth and 17 from the Linfield Christian 42-yard line with 46 seconds left to play.

Although V.C. scored twice after missing the extra point back in the first quarter, the question remained as to when Grayson would have tried to go for a two-point conversion to at least give the Crusaders a chance of having the game go into overtime.

“You knew it would factor in at some point,” Grayson said. “The question is, as a coach, when do we chase it? When do we go for two? I thought if we go for it early, we put ourselves in a position where we’re chasing it the rest of the game and that changes the whole tone of the game. It really didn’t factor in the game other than the final score. We had the ball last, with a drive to get into field goal range and not score [a touchdown].”

Nicholson led everyone with 136 yards on 21 carries while Downs was limited to 29 yards on 10 touches. Junior defensive end Matt Sigala was the leader on defense with 11 tackles while Westra and senior defensive back Kent Running each had 10 tackles. Westra also had a sack.

“I’m proud of these kids,” Grayson said. “We always talk about football being a game of adversity and overcoming adversity. We had our fair share of that this year with injuries and things that you never think you have happen when you lose kids to this, that and the other. These kids and the coaches never used it as a crutch. The kids that we put on the field played their hearts out. They deserved to win.”

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