For at the least the fifth time in its history, Valencia High football will face an NCAA Division 1-bound quarterback late in the postseason.
This year it’s USC-commit Jack Sears in a CIF-Southern Section Division 2 semifinal tonight at San Clemente.
Sears is a Rivals four-star prospect, an adept playmaker with his feet and someone squarely on Valencia’s radar.
“He makes all the throws,” said Valencia coach Larry Muir. “He’s a terrific athlete. My goodness, he can run. He’s fast and he has a great feel for the game.”
Sears — who sits behind “one of the biggest offense lines we’ve faced so far this year,” Muir said — is the next in a string of star quarterbacks to stand in the way of Valencia’s hopes of a first-ever CIF title.
The Vikings (10-2) have advanced to the semifinals 11 times now, with four championship appearances.
In the 1999 Division 3 final, Valencia lost to Stanford-bound Kyle Matter and Hart.
In the 2001 Division 3 final, UCLA-bound Matt Moore (who went on to play for Oregon State and the Miami Dolphins) threw for four touchdowns and ran for one in a win over Valencia.
Future USC and NFL player Mark Sanchez helped guide Mission Viejo past Valencia in the 2004 Division 2 title game at Angel Stadium.
Then in 2013, current Arizona State quarterback Brady White led Hart to a Northern Division title against Valencia.
The hope, for Vikings fans, is that the trend stops here.
It won’t be easy. Sears has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,812 yards, 26 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
He’s also racked up 832 yards on the ground for a Tritons team averaging 217 rushing yards a game.
“Their offensive attack is crazy,” said Valencia running back Moises Haynes.
Haynes, a junior, is someone San Clemente (9-3) certainly has its eye on. He’s rushed for 1,574 yards and 21 touchdowns, going over the 100-yard mark eight times this year. He’s eclipsed 180 yards twice in Valencia’s last three games.
To get to tonight’s semi, the Vikings beat Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, 34-3, in the first round and took down Arroyo Grande, 52-24, last week.
San Clemente, on the other hand, had to survive the second round, pulling out a 23-19 win over Heritage of Romoland.
The Tritons have averaged 36 points a game on offense, while allowing 19 points per contest.
“Defensively, they fly to the ball,” Muir said. “They’re a really aggressive football team. … You have to be able to pick up their blitzes and all the things they throw at you.”
Valencia’s offensive line hopes to be up to the task. Muir has watched the unit of left tackle Parker Kernek, left guard Justin Aguirre, center Eric Lieberman, right guard Cole Edwards, right tackle Cody Paul and super sub Tanner Miller grow throughout the course of the year, giving protection to senior quarterback Aaron Thomas.
Thomas isn’t as vaunted as Sears, but his numbers are comparable. He is completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,851 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
He’s tossed seven TDs against one interception in the playoffs. Four of the scores have gone to junior wideout Zion Dunson, who has reached the end zone in four straight games dating back to Valencia’s win over Canyon on Nov. 4.
As a unit, the Vikings are averaging 40 points a game. The defense has allowed 19 points on average.
CalPreps.com predicts Valencia will score a little less and give up a little more tonight, but still come out with a 35-24 win.
That would move the Vikings one step closer to their ultimate goal.