By Jon Stein
For The Signal
A matchup headlined by its two explosive offenses, ended up decided largely by the play of its two defensive lines.
Both Valencia and Oaks Christian were under constant pressure during Friday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division II championship game at Valencia High School.
But in the end, it was the Lions nearly escaping Valencia in a 20-19 victory to earn a CIF-SS title and drop the Vikings to 0-5 in Southern Section championship games.
“Definity surprised,” said Valencia quarterback Connor Downs of the defenses. “We knew they had a strong offense and we expected our offenses to fight it out.”
Downs’ pocket presence was on full display, as the senior quarterback used his speed and awareness to keep plays alive and convert 3rd-and-long on four occasions in the face of heavy pressure.
The quarterback finished the game with 213 yards passing and two touchdowns.
But on the offense’s final drive, the Vikings stalled at their own 33-yard line.
On the final play, Downs felt he escaped a would-be sack, but the officials had already blown the play dead.
He continued on toward the end zone, stopping at the Oaks Christian 28-yard line, frozen.
“It was almost just shock,” he said.
The Vikings entered Friday’s game with Oaks Christian after a ninth straight Foothill League championship season that saw them advance to a section title game for the first time since 2013.
Valencia led 19-17 late in the fourth quarter, after a missed PAT on Valencia’s first score of the game, and missed 2-point conversion on the second, left them with only a two-point cushion.
On the Oaks Christian sideline, kicker Ajay Culhane continued warming up his leg by kicking into a net.
With 2:12 remaining, Culhane would be called upon to bring the Lions a championship. His 27-yard field goal sailed through the uprights and set the final score.
It was his second of the game after a 31-yarder early in the fourth pulled the Lions to 19-17.
“Valencia was really good,” said Oaks Christian quarterback Josh Calvert. “Their defense really got after it. No one person was going to get this win. It was a team effort.”
Calvert added 141 yards through the air, with a second-quarter touchdown pass to give the Lions a 14-12 lead at the break.
Valencia would bounce back quickly in the third, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Downs to Mykael Wright to take a 19-14 lead.
It was Wright’s second score of the game after the junior two-way player intercepted a Calvert pass in the first quarter and caught a 32-yard pass from Downs on the next possession to jump-start the Vikings.
At 7-6 early in the game, the offensive expectations looked like they might come true.
But both defenses settled in quickly, and the offenses struggled for most of the next three quarters.
“I was surprised,” Wright said. “I thought the game would be high scoring and the defenses definitely dominated the show.”