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WEEK FIVE FOOTBALL: Valley Christian finds its grove despite sloppy game, snaps three-game skid

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

The Valley Christian High football team has been going through somewhat of a ‘when it rains’ it pours’ non-league season. In their four losses, the Defenders have been outscored 175-43, but in their two wins, V.C. has scored 72 points.

One of those victories came against winless La Salle High last Friday night, a 38-20 conquest at Valley Christian Stadium, ending a three-game losing streak. First-year head coach Stephen Kelley says the team has learned that they have a long way to go in terms of development and the team is just learning the basics of football. He added that the team has improved every week despite three-game losing streak and that the players are starting to understand more how the coaches want them to play. He concluded by saying, “things are coming along”.

Despite the season-high in points scored, it wasn’t the prettiest of games. V.C. turned the ball over twice while the La Salle quarterback C.J. Rettig was picked off four times and the Lancers also fumbled once. In addition, the Defenders were called for five personal foul penalties, a chop block infraction and a pass interference no-no. In total, V.C. was flagged 10 times for 136 yards.

“It wasn’t as crisp as we would like it,” Kelley said. “We had some mistakes that we made, and we had some costly penalties; some mental mistakes. But, those are things that we have the luxury of cleaning up this week as we go into league play.”

V.C. took the opening kickoff, helped set up by a 29-yard return from senior Derek Talsma and went 56 yards in 12 plays, capped off by a 13-yard score from senior running back Curtis Walhof just over five minutes in. On La Salle’s opening possession, junior Kai Talstra picked off Rettig and returned the ball 65 yards for a touchdown and just like that, the Defenders were up 14-0.

Following a Lancer touchdown, the hosts scored twice in the final minute of the first quarter. First, Walhof busted loose for a 50-yard run, ending a six-play drive that lasted 2:20. Two plays later, sophomore Luca Caldarella returned another Rettig interception 40 yards to the house.

V.C. was blanked in the second quarter, having punted twice with two other drives ending in an interception and on downs. By halftime, the Defenders were up 28-14 and had 110 yards of offense.

“We’re trying to get our guys to play more physical,” Kelley said. “We just have to make sure we’re doing it in between the whistles and everything is clean. We’ll work on that, we’ll talk about that and guys have learned from that.”

The Lancers closed the gap to eight points early in the third quarter when Rettig launched a 77-yard touchdown to Giovanni Butteri. But later in the stanza, V.C. got the touchdown back on a 77-yard run from sophomore running back Noah Ferinac. While Walhof, who rushed for 182 yards on 29 carries, has been a workhorse all season long, Ferinac picked up 122 yards on 14 carries, most coming in the second half. He is now second on the team with 171 yards behind Walhof, who is leading the Defenders with 635 yards on 115 touches and five of the seven touchdowns the team has scored,

“He’s a special sophomore for us,” Kelley said. “He is a different style of back than Curtis. He’s a little bit more jittery. He’s a guy that can come in and get yards and he’s low to the ground. He’s developed, and he’ll continue to develop as we go forward.”

The final score for the Defenders came nearly midway through the fourth quarter, a 20-yard field goal from senior Elijah Glonchak. The rushing game has been a staple for V.C. this season but senior quarterback Hayden Ericks, who completed only four passes for 40 yards, has thrown for 641 yards this season. Defensively, senior lineman Sam Range and sophomore free safety Trevor Vanmeeteren and Talstra all had three tackles and two interceptions against the Lancers

“We’re all tied together as one unit,” Kelley said. “Tonight, our defense spurred our offense. Hayden made some good reads tonight and some good throws. He didn’t come up as much as we would have liked. But he’s getting better and he’s developing, and it looks pretty promising going forward.”

With four games remaining in the regular season, there is little to no margin for error as far as making the playoffs is concerned. The Defenders host Heritage Christian High tonight on V.C.’s homecoming. The Warriors (6-0) are ranked fourth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 8 poll and have outscored their foes 215-55. Heritage Christian, coming off a forfeit victory against New Designs Watts High, is averaging 415 yards on the ground, led by Nasir Marshall (85 carries, 956 yards, eight touchdowns) and two other backs with over 300 yards on the ground. Quarterback Cameron Bell has completed 33 of 51 passes for 534 yards and seven touchdowns. The next two Olympic League opponents V.C. will face after Heritage Christian have at least a .500 record.

“We just have to be more crisp on all sides of the ball,” Kelley said. “We have to be prepared for them. They’re going to come in with their running attack and they’re going to look to try to capitalize on everything. It’s been four years since they’ve been league champions. So, we definitely know that we’re going to get their best shot. We have them here and we’re looking forward to the matchup next Friday night.”