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WEEK 1 FOOTBALL : Valley Christian rebounds with resounding victory over Bellflower

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


Valley Christian High’s home opener against Bellflower High was pushed back 45 minutes to accommodate the blistering record-setting heat that has encompassed the Southland recently. By kickoff, the air was still hot (mid 90s) and on the field, the Crusaders were even hotter, blasting the Buccaneers 42-13.

“The difference in this game and the last one [against Gahr High] was us,” said V.C. head coach Woodie Grayson. “We executed in the first half this week better than we did last week and we didn’t allow the game to stay in doubt in the second half.”

The previous week the Crusaders saw a 21-3 third quarter lead evaporate and fell to the Gladiators 24-23. But it was a completely different story against Bellflower. After turning the ball over on downs on its opening possession, V.C. scored touchdowns on the next five consecutive drives of the first half and again on its initial drive of the second half.

The Buccaneers were driving for a potential touchdown, getting to the eight-yard line following a 14-yard reception from Omari Okeke. But on second down, V.C. defensive lineman Tevita Makaafi sacked Joseph Garza for a six-yard loss. Two plays later, Nester Solarzano missed a 36-yard field goal. The Crusaders turned that missed opportunity into their first touchdown, a six-yard run from senior running back Gianni Hurd.

The second of many highlight plays from V.C.’s defense came less than a minute later when senior defensive back Garret Williams picked off Garza. One play later, he caught a 44-yard pass from senior quarterback Isaac Joseph, then a two-yard touchdown pass with 1:29 left in the opening quarter. Those would be the only two receptions by Williams.

The second quarter would belong to Joseph, who ended the first quarter completing all six of his passes for 94 yards. First, Joseph scored on a three-yard run less than three minutes into the stanza to make it a 21-0 contest. On the first play of V.C.’s next drive, he threw a 53-yard scoring strike to senior wide receiver Jaylon Tucker. Following a three and out by the defense, the Joseph to Tucker combination worked again, this time for 43 yards.

For added measure, Joseph began the second half with the final score for the hosts, a 23-yard pass to senior wide receiver Bailey Torres. Joseph would finish the game completing 10 of 13 passes for 223 yards. He would be replaced by junior backup Hayden Ericks late in the third quarter.

“He’s so much more comfortable this year than he was last year,” Grayson said of Joseph. “He’s making good decisions; quick decisions and is very accurate with the ball. If he’s going to play like that, pretty soon that other guy is going to get going and we’re going to be very good offensively.”

But just as impressive as the offense, the defense was once again stellar, especially Makaafi and senior linebacker Darian Green. The former had three sacks and nine tackles while the latter led the Crusaders with 11 tackles and one sack. Senior lineman Robert Chatman III pitched in with eight tackles.

The Bucs crossed midfield once after their opening drive of the game and that came with less than a minute remaining in the first half. On that drive, Makaafi sacked Garza for a 13-yard loss on first down from V.C.’s 47-yard line. Then on the fifth play of the second half, Green sacked Garza for a five-yard loss on third and eight from the Bellflower 33-yard line. Bellflower’s only touchdowns came against V.C.’s second stringers and the second one came on the last play of the game.

“I did alright but there are a lot more things I can work on,” Makaafi said. “It was just a team effort. Teamwork is what got me my tackles.”

Despite the big win, the Crusaders were hit with the injury bug for the second straight week. Senior defensive back and wide receiver Quory Smith suffered a small fracture in his right wrist in the Gahr game and is expected to be out four to five weeks and Williams went down with a shoulder injury early in the second quarter of the Bellflower game. Senior defensive back Adam Meza, along with Torres and Tucker on the offensive end picked up the slack.

“Since I’ve been here, these kids have been a very resilient bunch,” Grayson said. “We’ve had adversity every year that I’ve been here with guys not able to play or weather conditions or what not. And these kids just continue to believe in themselves and continue to play every week. You saw that come to fruition last year with the successful season. But that’s just who these kids are. They don’t really care about who’s there or who’s not there…they just play hard.”

“It was kind of rough,” Makaafi said of the week leading up to the game. “We were facing some adversity. But in the end, we all came through yesterday and just finished our practices and we came out and got this ‘W’.”

Very quietly, Hurd finished with 111 yards on 14 carries as the Crusaders, who moved up a spot to become the top team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 8 poll, will visit St. Margaret’s High tonight. The Tartans are the sixth ranked team in Division 7 and boast a 2-0 record, having outscored their opponents 75-14. Last season, St. Margaret’s came away with a 30-27 win and outscored the Crusaders 14-6 in the fourth quarter.