For years, outside observers loved to make excuses for Golden Valley’s struggles.
Now that they’ve been winning — there’s been excuses for that, too.
Friday night, the Grizzlies 28-7 CIF-Southern Section Division 7 quarterfinal win over El Segundo at Canyon High School wasn’t a Cinderella story — it was a winning story.
There was no magic slipper, nor clock to strike midnight.
PHOTOS: Golden Valley hosts El Segundo
There was, though, a swarming defense, a wide receiver in Jaelin Lewis who pulled in 14 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, and a power back named KJ Maduike to take the ball right at the Eagles to the tune of 139 yards on 35 carries.
So sideline the Cinderella talk — because there’s nothing unexpected about this season as far as the Grizzlies are concerned.
“No, I don’t believe that,” said Golden Valley head coach Dan Kelley of being a ‘Cinderella story.’ “We’re playing good football, that’s what you have to do in the playoffs.”
For a program hosting a postseason game for the first time in its history, the Grizzlies (8-4, 2-3) looked like the seasoned vets.
FINAL: GV 28-7 winners. pic.twitter.com/4iBTazUPrY
— Signal Sports (@SignalSports) November 19, 2016
After the Eagles (10-2, 4-1) tied the score at 7-7 on an 82-yard pass from Jake Palmer to Danny McEntee with 3:31 left in the first quarter, the Grizzlies’ poise was on full display.
Quarterback Josh Valano marched Golden Valley right down the field, capping the drive with a heave to the back-left corner of the end zone where Lewis out-jumped his defender to pull in the touchdown with 9.5 seconds remaining in the quarter for a lead his team would never relinquish.
Lewis made another spectacular grab late in the second quarter, this one a leaping catch as he fell into the end zone just inside the right pylon.
“That boy has ice water in his veins,” Madiuke said of Lewis. “The things he’s going to do in the Foothill League next year — I love that boy.”
It wasn’t all the offense on Friday night, though, as the Grizzlies defense overcame the early miscue that resulted in the Eagles’ lone score.
Golden Valley forced four fumbles, recovering two of them, and D.J. Mcintyre intercepted a pass midway through the second quarter that set up Lewis’ second grab.
None of the turnovers were as pressing as a third quarter recovery at the Grizzlies 31, when El Segundo’s Ashton Saltz coughed up the ball in Golden Valley territory.
At the time, the Eagles were looking to pull within one score.
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The years of Foothill League struggles with no postseason in sight have been well documented for the Grizzlies — in 2016, they’ve finally put it all together.
Golden Valley will host San Gorgonio on Friday in the semifinals in a matchup the Grizzlies see not as a surprise, but put simply, the result of hard work.
“It’s grinding,” Maduike said. “Compared to other (past Golden Valley) teams, this was a dream to them. For us, it’s happening.”