Valencia embraces ride to CIF final despite loss to Oaks Christian

Valencia's Josh DeNeal embraces a teammate after a 20-19 loss to Oaks Christian on Friday at Valencia. Christian Monterrosa/The Signal

As the clock ticked down at Valencia High School on Friday in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 championship game, each player on the Vikings sidelines had a different way of bracing themselves for a potential loss.

After Oaks Christian kicked a field goal to take a 20-19 lead over Valencia, Josh DeNeal and Luring Paialii clutched each other’s hands and knelt in prayer.

After Kayvon Thibodeaux sacked Vikes quarterback Connor Downs, Jayvaun Wilson took to the bench and put his face in his hands.

After an incomplete Valencia pass, Moises Haynes joined him. Valencia’s second loss of the season and first loss at home was nearing.

“As the clock was ticking down, it just felt like my energy was just going down and down and down,” said receiver Mykael Wright.

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The silence following Oaks Christian’s 20-19 win over the Vikings was almost eerie. But it allowed for reflection on the path that brought Valencia to where their season ended.

All season long, each player emphasized the sense of brotherhood they felt among their teammates. Valencia proved week in and week out that there was something special in their talent, but underneath it all, there was something special in their bond.

“We never gave up,” said linebacker Reilly Royce. “Nobody ever gave up. They fought to the last second. I can’t say enough about how great my team was. Everybody on defense, everybody on offense…

“We just fought for each other.”

Two days before the championship game, Valencia football nose guard Josh Washington explained what his favorite moment of the season was:

“I guess it would be everything that was leading up to this week,” he said. “Getting to CIF this week because it’s a big deal for our team and our school.”

On Friday night, Vikings alumni ranging from Manuel White to Jay Jay Wilson to Aaron Thomas took to the sidelines, demonstrating the importance of Valencia’s latest chance at a CIF ring.

“It’s great to have the alumni come back. It just says something about this program because they want to come back, they want to support us,” said Royce.

“I mean, I feel real bad that we let them down, but I know they’re proud of us for making it this far and they’ll keep coming back for future games.”

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