Shortly after its loss to Bishop Diego in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 final, Golden Valley’s captains approached midfield to accept the runner-up plaque from CIF officials.
As cameras flashed at the group, there were tears, not smiles. The plaque at that moment likely just felt like a piece of wood with metal plates following their 37-6 loss.
In reality, the plaque served as a symbol for possibly the greatest turnaround the Southern Section has seen over the last four years.
“I hate to see you guys crying,” said Grizzlies coach Dan Kelley, as his teary-eyed team met on a knee postgame at Canyon one final time. “I hate to see you guys hurting. But even tonight’s a memory you’ll never forget.
“You made your mark on Golden Valley history.”
When Kelley arrived in 2014, the Grizzlies were still seeking their first Foothill League win through eight seasons.
A year later, they notched that first victory. The next year, they made their first playoff appearance.
For the group of freshmen that arrived with Kelley in 2014, ending their Golden Valley career in a CIF-SS final wasn’t even a thought.
“We knew Golden Valley was a losing program and nobody expected us to win anything,” said senior CJ Ravenell. “We helped inspire that culture shift with four hard years of work. It’s up to the younger guys to keep it going, and we believe in them.”
There were mistakes aplenty for Golden Valley. Five turnovers, two blocked kicks and a snap that sailed over punter Carson Farber’s head deep in Grizzlies territory helped Bishop Diego run away with the game in the second half.
The opportunity to make those mistakes in a CIF title game wasn’t lost on the team, though.
“It’s surreal to think we made it this far,” said senior Ahvie Harris. “We got to see the greatness with this team rise to the top. I didn’t think I’d have a chance to play in a game like this when I was a freshman.”
For the second straight week, Golden Valley failed to score in the second half. Bishop Diego running back John Harris, who was held to just 19 yards on seven carries in the first half, tallied three second-half scores.
“We came out flat in the second half and didn’t take care of our assignments,” said DeGabriel Floyd. “They wore us down.”
The game wasn’t close, but Kelley knew exactly what this group of players had accomplished, even with a loss.
They put Golden Valley on the map.
That’s why when Floyd, Ravenell, Harris, DJ Turner and Jalin Lewis somberly accepted the runner-up plaque, Kelley was right in the middle of them with a grin.
“There are thousands of schools across the country — thousands of coaches — that have never been here, never been to one of these games,” Kelley said. “ … This just shows how far we’ve come and how far we’re about to go.”
When the team meets to start next season, the building blocks of the current program like Harris, Turner, Lewis and Ravenell won’t be around.
But the plaque signifying their improbable road to a CIF final will live on.