Mason Nesbitt: Division 2 is a blessing for Valencia football

Valencia Moises Haynes runs the ball down the field in the first quarter of a game against Arroyo Grande at Valencia High School in the playoffs last season. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/For The Signal

High School Football America released a composite national top 25 on Wednesday, providing a sharp reminder for a certain Santa Clarita Valley football program to count its blessings.

I’ll go ahead and say it for them: Thank goodness.

Thank goodness for the slimmest of margins. Thank goodness for La Habra and Long Beach Poly. Thank goodness that when the CIF released its playoff groupings this summer, Valencia High was second in Division 2 and not last in Division 1.

High School Football America’s poll, which took into account five separate rankings, including ones from USA Today and MaxPreps, placed three CIF-Southern Section Division 1 teams in its top five: (1) Mater Dei of Santa Ana, (2) St. John Bosco of Bellflower and (5) Corona Centennial.

This column is not meant in any way as a knock on Valencia. The Vikings, as you know, are the eight-time defending Foothill League champions and boast depth and skill all over the field entering 2017.

But for that very reason, thank goodness – because this year’s Vikings could do it. They could finally get over the hump and win the program’s first-ever CIF title. But in D2, not D1. Not in the domain of Dei, or the country of Corona or the boundaries of Bosco.

Valencia defenders Tim Wiggins (1) and Mykael Wright (8) break up a pass intended for Saugus receiver Amir Bishop (23) during a game last season. Photo by Tom Cruze for The Signal.

Even amid the uber-talented solar system that is Division 1, Centennial, Mater Dei and Bosco appear to be on another planet.

The latter two faced off at Angel Stadium for the Division 1 title last year, and all signs point to a rematch, unless, of course, Centennial and highly-touted quarterback Tanner McKee bull rush into the mix – a mix that would’ve certainly been a recipe for disaster for Valencia.

Remember that 72-42 loss to Centennial at Valencia in 2014. Or the 59-7 setback at Centennial a year later. Those were both eight-win, Foothill-champion Viking squads.

In more recent history, sophomore quarterback JT Daniels and Mater Dei mowed down a nine-win Vista Murrieta team by 33, and a 12-win Rancho Cucamonga squad by 27 in the 2016 playoffs.

Bosco then bounced Mater Dei in the final by two scores and will return dual-threat quarterback Re-al Mitchell (2,932 yards passing, 1,058 rushing) for 2017.

As shifty as Mitchell might be, Valencia made a more important move veering to the outside of Division 1.

Thank goodness.

Longtime Valencia coach Larry Muir will tell you the Vikings aren’t concerned with what division they’re in. Fair.

VHS Athletic Director Brian Stiman will tell you that CIF titles are not the determining factor in a successful season. True.

Valencia’s Cole Edwards (53), Cody Paul (57) and Parker Kernek (67) all return on the Vikings’ offensive line for 2017. Signal file photo

But in reaching the Division 2 semifinals and nearly beating San Clemente, the 2016 Vikings nearly played the 2017 team into a corner.

Instead, by the slimmest of margins (2.15 points, according to the Southern Section’s two-year power rankings), Valencia remained a CIF title contender, snuggly behind Division 2 leader La Habra and Division 1 caboose Poly.

That’s not to say the road in D2 will be easy, what with teams like Norco, Oaks Christian of Westlake Village and Edison of Huntington Beach to navigate.

But the Division 1 path was one better not traveled – even by the SCV’s best.

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