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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 9 FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Valley Christian’s defense puts away Kennedy in second quarter, wins big

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


For the first time in over 20 years, the Valley Christian High football team finished the regular season as the top ranked team in its division. Unfortunately for Kennedy High, the Crusaders showed why they are worthy of that top billing.

Back by another solid defensive performance that intercepted Irish quarterback Christian Rodriguez three times, V.C. shrugged off some early game jitters and crushed Kennedy 45-7 last Friday night at Crusader Field in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 first round game. The Crusaders improved to 9-2 and have won eight in a row. And while V.C. head coach Woodie Grayson admitted it wasn’t V.C.’s best performance, he did say he’s fortunate of the many weapons that the team does have.

The game could be divided into three sections with junior quarterback Isaac Joseph dominating the first quarter with touchdown runs of a yard and 43 yards on consecutive possessions and within 1:59 of each other. Joseph would pick up 45 yards on three carries in the first quarter as the Irish were keying in on junior running back Gianni Hurd early.

The V.C, defense, on the other hand, forced Kennedy to punt three times in the opening stanza Then on the second play of the second quarter, a blocked punt was recovered by senior defensive lineman Austin Minnema at the Kennedy 38-yard line and two plays later, Joseph threw a 38-yard scoring strike to senior wide receiver R.J. Van Kampen. Two plays after that, senior defensive back Dominic Paul picked off Rodriguez at midfield.

The Crusaders were unable to turn that into a score and in fact, both teams combined for four turnovers in the second quarter. But the Olympic League champions were able to take the first of two interceptions by senior Clay D’Amico and turn it into a Hurd 25-yard touchdown run with 97 seconds left in the half. Then after forcing the Irish to punt, D’Amico booted a 25-yard field goal on the last play to give V.C. a 31-0 halftime lead.

“I don’t know if we ever recovered,” Grayson said of the first half. .“Just different things opened up as the game progressed. Isaac in the beginning, that’s what they were giving us. They started to take that away and the defense was solid throughout. Isaac ran a couple of touchdowns, and then he threw one.”

After the defense dominated the second part of the game, it was time for Hurd to get going in the third part of the contest. With almost three minutes elapsed in the third quarter, Hurd got loose for a 78-yard touchdown run. On the first play of Kennedy’s ensuing drive, D’Amico picked off Rodriguez for the second time and about two and half minutes later, Joseph capped off V.C.’s scoring with a five-yard run.

After being held to 15 yards on his first five touches, Hurd finished with 134 yards on nine carries while Joseph added 60 yards on seven rushes. Joseph was also 10 of 18 for 131 yards through the air.

“Gio is such a dynamic player that when you gear your whole defense to play him, you lose sight of the fact that we have other dynamic players,” Grayson said. “So, we don’t really worry about adjusting too much. If they start taking away Gio, we know other guys are going to make plays.

“Right now we’re a tough team to defend offensively,” he added. “There are some things we have to clean up. But all in all, we’ll take it. Step one of the playoffs is in the books and we move on to the second round.”

Junior linebacker Darian Green led V.C. with 11 tackles and a pair of sacks while senior linebacker Jalen Hines added eight tackles. While Van Kampen has been the leader of the defense the past couple of seasons with 16 career interceptions and 247 career tackles entering the game, both school records, D’Amico stole some of the spotlight with his two interceptions. He and Van Kampen now lead the team with four interceptions this season.

“He’s an athlete,” Grayson said. “He has good speed and he’s a competitor. He’s a lot like R.J. in that he’s a ball hog. We did a good job of covering and getting pressure on the quarterback, who put it in the air basically for anybody to get. Clay went and got a couple and Dom had one that we kind of wasted. We have good athletes in the secondary.”

V.C. will visit El Rancho High tonight with a chance to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2007. The Crusaders have fallen in the quarterfinals in two of the past three seasons. El Rancho, which knocked off Norwalk High 42-26 on the road last Friday, enters with a 5-6 mark. The Dons were the third place representative out of the Del Rio League and have won three straight games, scoring at least 36 points in those games.

Quarterback Adam Chandler has thrown for nearly 2,400 yards and has 24 touchdowns to his name opposite six interceptions. His favorite target is Gabriel Huerta, who has caught 70 passes for 1,273 yards and 14 touchdowns. El Rancho figures to be more of a passing team than a running team as its leading ground gainer, Jason Vela, picked up 387 yards.

When the Crusaders finished the regular season as the top ranked team in the division, it marked the first time since 2005 that the program had been one of the top four ranked teams in its division heading into the playoffs. Back then, V.C. was ranked fourth in Division 11. But Grayson was quick to point out that rankings don’t mean anything at this point in the season.

“Once the playoffs start, you know you have to play well to move on,” Grayson said. “It’s nice, it’s an accolade, but it’s so meaningless in the grand scheme. We needed to play well to win tonight. All of that seeding stuff, we’ve been saying it all year from the time we were ranked low in the division to being ranked high, that it didn’t mean anything. We’ve been ignoring those seedings all year long, so it’s even more meaningless now.”

If the Crusaders come away with a win, they will be home to the victor of the Agoura High-Notre Dame/Riverside High game on Nov. 25.