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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 9 FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS Valley Christian’s defense once again sets tone early in another rout

Valley Christian High junior running back Gianni Hurd looks to escape El Rancho High's Jordan Jimenez (#44) and Andrew Ortiz in last Friday night's California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 quarterfinal game. Hurd ran for 99 yards on 17 carries and scored once in V.C.'s 37-12 victory. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

Valley Christian High junior running back Gianni Hurd looks to escape El Rancho High’s Jordan Jimenez (#44) and Andrew Ortiz in last Friday night’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 quarterfinal game. Hurd ran for 99 yards on 17 carries and scored once in V.C.’s 37-12 victory. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

PICO RIVERA-Valley Christian High’s defense was able to do something against El Rancho High that Norwalk High couldn’t do the previous week. The Crusaders stopped Gabriel Huerta from having another fantastic performance and the defense picked off Adam Chandler twice in a 37-12 victory in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 quarterfinal game.

Top ranked V.C. advances to tonight’s home semifinal game against fourth ranked Notre Dame (Riverside). It’s the first trip to the semifinals for the Crusaders since 2007 and fourth time since 2001. Despite the wide margin of victory, V.C. junior quarterback Isaac Joseph was probably smiling inside, but he definitely wasn’t showing it outside. He said of his team’s execution on offense that it ‘just didn’t feel right in this game’ and that he didn’t feel like the team was in its zone as in the other games. He added that he felt like the team ‘took a day off’ in this game.

“It’s really nothing to celebrate,” Joseph said. “We just have to keep our heads up, keep looking forward and we just have to keep executing every single game. We have to play better than this for sure.”

But on the defensive side, it was completely different. A week after catching eight passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns, Huerta was held to seven catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns. Chandler, who passed for 348 yards and five touchdowns in his team’s 42-26 win over Norwalk, was 19 of 38 for 144 yards and no touchdowns.

“I think that was a big part of the game for us,” said V.C. head coach Woodie Grayson. “You watch film and you watch [Huerta] and he makes plays week in and week out. He’s running by people and behind people and you kind of wonder what do you have to do to stop him? Can you stop him? So our defense came out and took it as a challenge and that kid was not going to beat us.”

V.C.’s defense, under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Kirk Diego, forced a trio of three and outs in the opening quarter plus the fifth interception this season by senior defensive back R.J. Van Kampen. Meanwhile, the offense was making sure it wouldn’t waste any opportunity to score early as junior running back Dominic Paul scored from four yards out four minutes in and Joseph tossed a 51-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Quory Smith two and a half minutes after the Van Kampen interception.

The lead would increase to 21-0 on the first play of the second quarter when Joseph found senior wide receiver Clay D’Amico for a 33-yard connection.

“We just had to do what we had to do to keep them from getting back in the game,” Joseph said. “We just had to stop them from getting any points on the board to keep it a close game. We had to score as soon as possible.”

After El Rancho got on the board with 8:03 left in the half on a nine-yard run from Marcos Weeks, the Crusaders responded by adding a D’Amico 47-yard field goal with 4:08 left before the break. V.C.’s offense was well-balanced in the first half with Joseph passing for 135 yards and junior running back Gianni Hurd rushing for 85 yards of the 113 the team would get in the first 24 minutes. On the other side of the field, the Dons punted on six first half possessions and did not have a drive last more than 2:08.

“Our defense is playing great,” Joseph said. “I think they’re really saving us a lot because we played a poor offensive game. Since the season started, the defense has really stepped it up and I think they’re really a big tool for our entire team.”

“The way we were set up, [Chandler] forced the ball to other people,” Grayson said of his defense. “So, they really didn’t have a choice in it. They made some adjustments to try to get him some shots deep. But our kids run well.”

On the fourth play of the second half, Hurd scored from a yard out to make it 30-6. The play came after a 66-yard reception from Smith, who had a banner night. He led the Crusaders with 150 yards on five receptions.

“He just came out ready,” Joseph said. “He got himself open and coach called the right plays for Q. It was his night tonight. He executed every play doing what he had to do.”

“The way their defense was set, they were stacking the box,” Grayson said. “And even they were leaving our receivers three on two at times and we were able to see that. For Quory to suddenly step up and be the guy tonight, that was the difference maker. It’s a credit to him to always be ready and when his number was called, he answered.”

El Rancho still couldn’t generate much on offense in the third quarter, going three and out after the Hurd touchdown and being held on downs later in the stanza. V.C.’s final touchdown came with 3:58 left in the third when Joseph connected with Van Kampen for 44 yards.

Joseph completed 10 of 20 passes for 254 yards while picking up another 27 yards on seven carries. Hurd had a rough night but managed to gain 99 yards on 17 rushes. And that vaunted V.C. defense allowed 32 yards on 21 carries.

The Crusaders (10-2 overall) will face a tougher opponent in Notre Dame (Riverside), last season’s Northwest Division champions. The Titans are 9-3 but two of their losses were forfeit setbacks with the other one a one-point loss to Ontario Christian. Notre Dame (Riverside), which has won four straight, outscoring its opponents 196-85 in that time, is led by quarterback Niles Harrell. He has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,573 yards and 11 touchdowns. His two favorite targets are Jared Baytosh (45 receptions, 640 yards, five touchdowns) and Ian Zamudio (20 catches, 513 yards, four touchdowns). On the ground, Zamudio has rushed for 795 yards on 68 carries and found the end zone eight times while Tyzjon Calhoun-Fuller has added 478 yards on 43 touches with five touchdowns.

V.C., winners of eight straight games, is enjoying the program’s best season since 2005 when that team finished at 10-2. The Crusaders also went 11-2 the year before and 12-2 in 2002, the last time they played for a divisional championship. And, everyone knows that the farther you get in the playoffs, the chances of practicing on Thanksgiving morning increases.

“We’ve been pointing that out to the kids that practicing on Thanksgiving is special,” Grayson said. “In years past, you only had to win the first game to practice on Thanksgiving. It’s tougher now. We’ve been close the last few years and to finally break through and get to the third round and to be able to practice on Thanksgiving is something that these kids will never forget.”