For 12 minutes of action Friday night, the Golden Valley Grizzlies were the only Foothill League team still playing football in 2016.
Despite falling 39-35 at Canyon High in the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 semifinal to San Gorgonio of San Bernardino, that spotlight shined, perhaps for the first time in the school’s history, strictly on the Grizzlies.
Those final 12 minutes were frenetic, with the Grizzlies final attempt at a game-winning drive ending with a 3-yard pass from quarterback Josh Valano to Lavelle Calvin on 4th-and-4 from the San Gorgonio 16-yard line.
The Grizzlies argued that his forward progress was beyond the marker, but the call stood, and the Spartans ran the clock out after a 21-yard, first-down run from quarterback Kalab Hayes that effectively sealed the game.
For a team defined for so long by its struggles, the 2016 season will go down as an unmitigated success.
Losing was no longer a familiar feeling for Golden Valley, and that was clear in the emotions of the players, coaches and fans after the contest concluded.
“They set a foundation we’ve been building since I got here,” said Golden Valley head coach Dan Kelley, who is in his third year. “They took it to another level that no one expected.”
The Grizzlies had their moments on Friday.
Midway through the third quarter, Golden Valley took a 28-20 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run by KJ Maduike and immediately forced a three-and-out on the ensuring San Gorgonio possession.
But running back Tai Brown fumbled on the second play of the Grizzlies drive and the Spartans turned the turnover into six points to pull within two.
Up 35-26 after a 35-yard touchdown catch from Jalin Lewis that set a school single-season receiving TD record (11), a Grizzly defender dropped a would-be interception to keep the Spartans’ next drive alive.
San Gorgonio would score seven plays later to pull within 35-33 with 10:53 left in the game.
“Those were the plays you need to make to win championships,” Kelley said. “We had a good drive and fumbled on first down”
The Grizzlies struggled with Hayes, an Oregon State commit, as the quarterback threw for 226 yards and ran for 82, including a 4th-and-10, 36-yard touchdown run that put San Gorgonio ahead for good with 7:31 left.
For his part, Valano threw for 176 yards and three touchdowns, setting the single-season school record for passing yards, breaking the mark Najee Coleman set in 2007 (2,035).
Maduike also broke the school’s single-season rushing yardage record by running for 74 yards and one touchdown Friday. The previous record was set by Earl Johnson in 2011 (1,393).