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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
The Valley Christian High football team has been able to handle one obstacle after another through its 2016 California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 playoff run. But the Crusaders ran into a brick wall against The Bishop’s School in the Southern California 3-A Regional playoffs last Saturday night at Crusader Field.
V.C. was without the services of junior running back Gianni Hurd and junior wide receiver Quory Smith, both of whom were not cleared to play earlier in the week, and the Crusaders were unable to mount much on offensive attack in a 28-9 loss to the Knights. The Crusaders, who won the CIF-SS Division 9 championship the previous week, end their magical season at 12-3.
“Defensively, our guys played well,” said V.C. head coach Woodie Grayson. “[Bishop’s] is used to scoring a lot of points and we made it difficult on them, in the first half especially. Offensively, we were just too inconsistent. The things that were there early, we didn’t capitalize on and we put our defense in a position where they were on the field too much.”
The Crusaders knew they would be facing probably their toughest opponent this season in the Knights, a La Jolla-based team that had carved through the CIF-San Diego Section’s Division 3 to the tune of a 13-0 mark before the game and had outscored opponents 635-165. But V.C. was up to the task early as senior defensive back R.J. Van Kampen picked off Jeffrey Jackson at the Bishop’s 45-yard line and returned it 32 yards. Four plays later, senior Clay D’Amico kicked a 28-yard field goal and almost five minutes in, the hosts had a 3-0 lead.
But V.C.’s offense was unable to sustain much the remainder of the half, punting on three straight drives in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Knights got on the board on the last play of the first quarter when Jackson ran it in from two yards out. He then tossed a pass to Mozes Mooney for the two-point conversion.
Still, the V.C. defense was doing its part to stay in the game, especially when Van Kampen had a diving interception early in the second quarter. Then Jackson would throw three straight incomplete passes the next time Bishop’s got the ball back. But again, the inability to mount an offensive attack was the story for the Crusaders, who had 74 yards of offense in the first half and only five first downs.
Without the services of Hurd, who had rushed for 1,940 yards and scored 29 touchdowns, the ground game was left to senior running back Dominic Paul and junior running back Darian Green. Those two combined for 49 yards on 16 carries in the game. And Joseph would have one less target to throw to with the absence of Smith, who had caught 30 passes for 402 yards. But Grayson said not having those two did not result in the loss.
“It wouldn’t have mattered because the same plays were called,” Grayson said. “The execution in the run game wasn’t there. The execution in the passing game wasn’t there. Not having those guys wouldn’t have made a difference. It was entirely on us. Guys injured, guys not here, guys sick…it’s always next man up and you get the job done. We just didn’t get the job done tonight as players and staff.”
Other than the lone touchdown, the Knights were having problems moving the ball in the first half, punting on three possessions and having two other drives end on the Van Kampen interceptions. Jackson, who entered the game with nearly 3,300 yards through the air and 39 touchdowns opposite three interceptions, completed nine of 14 passes for 111 yards before halftime. In the third quarter, he was true on two of seven passes.
“What we do every week is we come out and we run our same stuff,” Van Kampen said. “We don’t change anything. We look at their plays and see what they’re doing on film so we can be prepared for what they’re trying to do. But we have to be prepared for anything because they can throw anything out.”
“Our defense has done a good job all year of taking away what teams like to do and forcing them to beat us with something else,” Grayson said. “You saw that again tonight; we took away their bread and butter stuff and they executed the rarities better than we executed the stuff that we rarely do.”
V.C.’s offense still couldn’t get going in the third quarter but trailed 14-3 with 1:34 remaining in the stanza after Jackson tossed a short three-yard pass to Justin Woodley. But less than 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Knights iced the game when Jackson launched a 57-yard scoring play to Isaiah Dawson.
”Our defense did a good job again in the second half,” Van Kampen said. “But losing a couple of bodies, I think we started to get tired in the second half, which kind of hurt us. But still no excuse, we came out and played as hard as we could and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Crusaders would hold the ball for the final 3:14 of the contest with Van Kampen catching a four-yard pass from Joseph on the final play of the game and season. It was Van Kampen’s seventh touchdown reception along with four more off of returns. Van Kampen also led the Crusaders with 13 tackles.
“It’s just special; it’s a blessing,” Van Kampen said of catching the touchdown pass. “I’ve had my family come to just about every one of my games and that’s been truly, truly a blessing. To end it like that is great.”
“R.J. is just a warrior,” Grayson said. “He plays every game like it’s the last. He plays every play like it’s his last and he’s just always on the field, defensively, special teams, offensively. And he doesn’t really know situations. He empties his tank every play and you have to admire his warrior mentality.”
Joseph finished the game completing 13 of 24 passes for 123 yards. Van Kampen hauled in four receptions for 38 yards while D’Amico and junior wide receiver Bailey Torres each caught three passes for 35 and 34 yards respectively.
This was the first time V.C. had won 12 games since 2002, which was also the last time the program played for a CIF-SS divisional championship. While the Crusaders will graduate 13 great players, including the majority of their linemen on both sides of the ball, they’ll still be a major offensive force next season.
“[It was] a great season,” Grayson said. “I think the dream season is always to go undefeated. But it was a great season by any measure. We’re CIF champions, we went 12-2 before the state tournament started and if this was eight to 10 years ago, we end the season on a higher note. So that’s kind of where I want to leave it.
“We didn’t have it tonight, we didn’t get it done tonight,” he continued. “But it doesn’t take away from what we did this year. It was a special year. To start 1-2 and really not know which way the season was going to go and to run off 11 in a row…that’s not easy to do. We just ran into a team tonight that had run off 13 in a row. I’m really pleased with this season. Who wouldn’t be?”
“There’s really nothing much more you can ask for,” Van Kampen said. “We played our hearts out. I love these guys, every single one of them. It was a great season.”
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