A flawless Foothill League season that led to Valencia High football’s eighth consecutive Foothill League title puts the Vikings (8-2) in familiar territory, playing in their 10th consecutive postseason.
They’re also fairly familiar with the team they’ll host in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 first round on Friday night: Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, having gone 1-4 against the Knights in five meetings since 2004.
“Notre Dame is a very well-coached, disciplined, tough football team,” said Valencia defensive coordinator Robert Waters. “In order to beat them, we have to play physical and fast.”
Strength and speed are two characteristics that give the Vikings one of the area’s most potent backfields during the regular season. Running back Moises Haynes led the charge with 1,246 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
MORE football: Hart has its hands full with Phantoms
Sophomore Jayvaun Wilson, who has rushed for 378 yards (9.7 yards per rush) and eight touchdowns this year, will be unavailable against Notre Dame due to an unspecified injury, Waters said.
Vikings quarterback Aaron Thomas, who had six rushing touchdowns of his own, benefitted from the attention Haynes and Wilson received from opposing defenses. Thomas has completed 148-of-240 passes for 2,384 yards and 18 touchdowns to only six interceptions.
“Haynes is one heck of a running back and, to be quite honest, there aren’t many people that like to square up and tackle him in practice.” Waters said. “It’s also nice to have a signal-caller like Thomas who’s accurate, tough, and smart.”
The Knights (5-5) are the fifth-place team out of the Mission League but are riding a two-game win streak into the playoffs on the shoulders of a running game that rivals Valencia’s and may prove problematic for the Vikings’ defense.
“They have three running backs they rotate in, and they’re all very good,” Waters said. “We have to swarm the football, that’s the bottom line.”
Valencia’s front seven, which has helped the defensive unit garner 112 tackles for a loss, will be tasked with slowing down the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Kylan Wilborn, whose size and strength allowed him to run for 580 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Behind Wilborn, Khalid Taylor and Chris Galvez combined for 807 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Despite the obstacle facing Valencia in the first round, the Vikings are determined to achieve something they’re not so familiar with in the playoffs.
“We’ve never won a CIF Championship,” Waters said. “It’s going to be a challenge. Our kids have to play well and our coaches have to work hard in preparing the kids. Hopefully, we’ve done our jobs and we find success.”