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WEEK 10 FOOTBALL : Garner nearly a one-man show on senior night as Valley Christian claims league title outright

Valley Christian High senior quarterback Brayden Garner had the game of his life as he is being chased by Village Christian High’s Salaah Hill (#1) and others last Friday night. In his final regular season home game, Garner rushed for 247 yards on 33 carries and scored four touchdowns as Valley Christian knocked off Village Christian 55-32 to win the Olympic League title outright. Garner also passed for 116 yards on six completions for two more touchdowns. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE FERICEAN, Bee Photo Galleries.

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Valley Christian first-year head coach Bill Garner thought his son Brayden, the quarterback of the Defenders, played like the Olympic League’s Most Valuable Player this past Friday night against Village Christian. The signal caller, playing in his final regular season game at Valley Christian, made the most of his senior night as a quarterback, a ground gainer and a defensive back.

Garner rushed for 247 yards on 33 carries and scored four touchdowns, completed six of nine passes for 116 yards with two more touchdowns and intercepted Village Christian quarterback Sam Faulkner late in the third quarter as the Defenders won the Olympic League outright with a 55-32 victory. Valley Christian will enter the CIF-Southern Section Division 11 playoffs at 7-3, having won its last four games.

“I think for any of your players, you hope for good things for good guys,” Bill Garner said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to watch my son play sports growing up and he’s always been that kind of ‘team first, whatever role you need me to do’. This year it was the same thing and it was just…that role happened to be quarterback, and I couldn’t be happier for good things to happen to such a good guy.”

“It was really special,” Brayden Garner said. “Coming out on senior night, it was just a really fun game. We started out pretty shaky; we were kind of confused. But then we came back and just played our game.

“No doubt, that was the best game I’ve ever played in my life,” he continued. “That was the game of my life.”

Valley Christian dominated the first half in virtually every area, including the game’s opening drive in which it went 49 yards in 11 plays, ending with a Brayden Garner three-yard score. After Evan Clarizio returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards for a touchdown, the Defenders went up 13-6 three plays later when Brayden Garner tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Luca Caldarella. 

After the hosts forced a three and out, they went up 20-6 when Brayden Garner scored from 16 yards out with 46.1 seconds remaining in the first quarter. However, on the last play of the stanza, Salaah Hill scored on a 61-yard run to keep the Crusaders in the game.

After having the ball for just over nine minutes in the first quarter, Valley Christian would duplicate the same feat in the second quarter. Sophomore defensive back Rocco Caldarella picked off Faulkner early in the quarter and although the Defenders wasted a 13-play, 76-yard drive when senior Elijah Glonchak missed a 23-yard field goal, Village Christian went three and out again. That would lead to Valley Christian increasing its lead to 27-12 on a seven-yard run from Luca Caldarella with 38.5 seconds left in the half.

But Village Christian created some excitement when Faulkner tossed a 45-yard touchdown pass, which was tipped, to Jalyne McFall on the last play of the half. Even though the halftime score was 27-18, Village Christian ran 11 plays and had 98 yards of total offense. Four of those plays went for positive yardage. 

“It’s really just a credit to Village,” Bill Garner said of the first half. “They are loaded and what I said to their team after was every one of my coaches this week has looked at their film and said, “how is this team 2-7”? They’re loaded up; they have a ton of talent and they have some good coaches over there. So, the big play…at any time that team is capable of going 100 yards on one play.

“I give our defense a lot of credit because when it came down to the drives and stuff, that was us, bending but not breaking,” he continued.

“They got that tip pass for a touchdown, which was crazy, but we got one of those, too,” Brayden Garner said. “It was only fair. But the defense came out and we did our thing and that was it.”

Village Christian stayed close to Valley Christian early in the third quarter when Hill caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Faulkner six plays into the half. But that’s as close as the Crusaders would get. Brayden Garner would score on runs of 15 and three yards respectively on Valley Christian’s two finished drives of the third quarter. The second of those two drives lasted 99 yards and was made possible after Faulkner had fumbled at the one-yard line on fourth down.

After Hill returned a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter, senior Kai Talstra returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards. Two plays after that score, Luca Caldarella intercepted Faulkner and the Defenders parlayed that into a 10-play, 75-yard drive that took close to seven minutes. Brayden Garner would cap off his remarkable night with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Luca Caldarella.

Lost in the mix offensively for the Defenders was senior running back Jarvis Hudnall, who picked up 103 yards on 12 carries, and Luca Caldarella, who gained another 47 yards on seven touches. Valley Christian would put together 529 yards on 66 plays.

Valley Christian, which went 3-7 last season for the program’s fourth losing campaign since 2011, won its fourth Olympic League championship in the past five seasons. Overall, this is Valley Christian’s 21stleague title. Valley Christian will host Pasadena High tonight in a Division 11 first round game. 

“First, God gave us a real clear vision as to what this program was supposed to be about, and it was supposed to be about mentoring young men,” Bill Garner said of the turnaround. “Everything has come in after that. We tried to keep that our goal, and the reason why I bring that up is I genuinely think that’s been a key factor because we spend a lot of time talking about character, relationships, what it means to be a family, a friend, a team.”

“A lot of people, at school even, had been doubting us this year,” Brayden Garner said. “We just wanted to come out and show them who we were. Co-league champs wasn’t good enough for us. We wanted to be it by ourselves.”