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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 9 FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Valley Christian’s defense shines in shutout win, Crusaders to play for division championship


Valley Christian junior quarterback Isaac Joseph tries to get around Jared Baytosh of Notre Dame (Riverside) in last Friday night's California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 semifinal game. Joseph picked up positive yardage on two of his seven carries in V.C.'s 12-0 victory. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

Valley Christian junior quarterback Isaac Joseph tries to get around Jared Baytosh of Notre Dame (Riverside) in last Friday night’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 semifinal game. Joseph picked up positive yardage on two of his seven carries in V.C.’s 12-0 victory. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


With the offenses of the Valley Christian High and Notre Dame (Riverside) High football teams struggling mightily, the longtime adage of defense winning championships proved to be true for the host Crusaders. V.C. was held to under 100 yards of total offense but its defense picked off Titans quarterback Niles Harrell five times, forced six punts and recovered a fumble in a 12-0 triumph in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 semifinal game last Friday night at Crusader Field.

Top ranked and Olympic League champion V.C. will play Silverado High in the Division 9 championship game on Saturday at Crusader Field. It’s the first time since 2002 that the Crusaders have played for a divisional title. The program won divisional championships in 1986 and 1995.

“This was the best defensive effort by far,” said V.C. head coach Woodie Grayson. “But I have to tip my hat to their defense. We knew that they had a great defense and their game plan all year, from the films that we watched, was to run the ball, not make mistakes and count on their defense to give them short fields to score points and make plays off of special teams.”

Grayson said that part of V.C.’s game plan was not to take shots when they weren’t there. The longest play from scrimmage was a 24-yard pass play from junior quarterback Isaac Joseph to senior wide receiver Michael Polk late in the third quarter and was just the third play of over 10 yards for the Crusaders. Meanwhile, the V.C. defense held the Titans to 13 yards on the ground while Harrell completed 12 of 30 passes for 112 yards. But he was three of 12 with three interceptions in the fourth quarter.

However, the Crusaders, who improved to 11-2 overall and winners of 10 straight games, punted eight times themselves and turned the ball over twice. The offense crossed midfield once in the first quarter, twice in the third quarter and once again in the fourth quarter on the last drive of the game.

“There’s three phases to every football game-offense, defense and special teams,” Grayson said. “Both offenses were anemic to downright atrocious tonight. Both defenses played well. The special teams were a wash. Our defense just outplayed their defense.”

One of leaders on defense was junior defensive back Quory Smith. A week after he caught five passes for 150 yards and scored once against El Rancho High, he had a pair of interceptions, returning one 63 yards to the house for the lone touchdown with 6:30 remaining in the second quarter. Smith, who also had four tackles, was replacing senior cornerback Randall Wiley, who was out of town.

“It was just crazy coming in,” Smith said. “We were missing our first string guy and I had to step up and show all tonight.”

“He’s just been electric for us the last month of the season,” Grayson said. “He’s a guy who has an offensive mindset. But he transitioned nicely for us defensively and made great plays for us, from the pick six to covering their best guy. He made an impact for us in a different way tonight.”

Another hero of the game was senior Clay D’Amico, who not only booted a 30-yard field goal less than three minutes into the third quarter, but constantly pinned the Titans deep in their own end of the field. His eight punts pinned the Titans back at their own three, 28, 30, 27, 17, 26, 27 and 17 yard lines.

Three plays following D’Amico’s first punt, Harrell was sacked by senior linebacker Jalen Hines in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead with 4:36 remaining in the opening stanza. Like the Crusaders, Notre Dame (Riverside) had a hard time crossing midfield, which it did once in the game and not until very late in the third quarter.

“It was crucial because this is the best night punting for him all year,” Grayson said of D’Amico. “He’s more of a kicker and a field goal guy. But his punts were tremendous. They pinned them deep; we got down and covered them, especially Quory Smith. He was the first guy down and made some big time tackles for us on special teams.”

Joseph was eight of 15 for 39 yards while junior running back Gianni Hurd was limited to 41 yards on 22 tough carries. Defensively, Hines and junior linebacker Darian Green each led the way with a dozen tackles. Hines also had an interception at the Notre Dame (Riverside) 20-yard line and returned it 14 yards. That would eventually lead to D’Amico’s field goal. Senior defensive back Dominic Paul and junior defensive back Garret Williams each picked off Harrell in the fourth quarter.

“It was hard, but we had stepped up on defense really big,” Smith said. “Our defense did it tonight.”

Silverado, the third ranked team in the division and champions of the Desert Sky League, has won 11 straight games after opening the season with two straight losses. The Hawks are making their first trip to a CIF-SS divisional title game. Quarterback Levi Taylor has thrown for over 2,700 yards and 44 touchdowns with his two favorite targets being Daniel Dexter (49 receptions, 1,257 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Trevon Clark (57 receptions, 1,183 yards, 13 touchdowns). The ground assault is led by Dionzae Nolan who has rushed for 1,013 yards on 121 carries with nine touchdowns. Taylor has picked up 584 yards on the ground with a dozen touchdowns.

The last time the Crusaders advanced this far, they fell to Carpinteria High 26-22 in the Division XI finals. The game was played at Santa Barbara City College in a driving rainstorm throughout the majority of the contest. V.C. won the 1986 Inland Division championship over Carpinteria, a 10-7 victory at Gahr High and the 1995 Division X title, a 21-17 victory over former longtime rival Orange Lutheran at Orange Coast College.

“It just feels great to finally get there,” Smith said. “We’ve been working all year and everything. I’m just very grateful to get there finally.”

But for Grayson, this isn’t his first trip to a championship game. He was on the Mayfair High staff when the Monsoons knocked off Suburban League nemesis La Mirada High for the 1998 Division IX and 2001 Division VI titles. Both of those games were played at Cerritos College.

“It’s not about me and the return to the finals,” Grayson said. “It’s been more important for me to do the best job we could do as a staff so that these players can get an opportunity to experience going to the finals to experience the chance of winning a championship. That’s what it’s been about for me and the staff.

“We coaches, we do this for the kids,” he continued. “We’re along for the ride and it’s just fun to see all of their hard work pay off. They’re playing through a lot of pain and a lot of adversity.”