A week after Valencia and Golden Valley’s respective championship games, the practice fields are empty, the stadium lights dark.
Each player has handed over his uniform and pads. The final shell of football season is gone, save for the end-of-season banquet, and attention turns from the final whistle to chemistry finals.
“It’s different,” Grizzlies coach Dan Kelley said of the first non-game Friday. “…Your Fridays and your weeks are occupied with opponents and routines, so it takes time to get used to, but what we accomplished this year is something special.”
The Grizzlies lost to Bishop Diego last Friday, 37-6 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 final.
Looking back on the experience, Kelly knows exactly where his team fell short.
“Bishop Diego showed us that we need to be bigger, faster, stronger,” he said.
“…They run the ball really effective, well coached and physical. They just outlasted us. We hung in there for about three quarters, then everything fell apart.”
The margin of victory in Valencia’s game was much closer. The Vikings lost to Oaks Christian 20-19 in the CIF-SS Division 2 championship game.
The loss dealt the Vikings a blow that not even Oaks Christian defensive end and highly touted recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux could match.
This was the Valencia team that many believed could “go all the way.”
Since the loss, coach Larry Muir has spent his time mulling over film and what-if scenarios.
“If that one play was different, if I called a different play, how much would that have changed the momentum of the game? That’s the problem with games like that,” said Muir. “You can dissect it and beat yourself up with things that could have differently for you.”
Muir admitted that, at first, he blamed himself for the loss. But he soon came to the conclusion that if Vikings football wins as a team, they lose as a team, too. No outcome can be dictated by a singular coach, player, play or whistle.
“It has to work both ways. You can’t (say) that when you win, we’re all in this together and just because you lose, you flip and blame yourself … All of us have a hand in it when you win, so all of you have a hand in it when you lose. You have to stay consistent that way.”
After a week of reflecting, both coaches were slowly able to identify positives from the season as a whole.
Kelley emphasized how quickly Golden Valley reached a championship game (the program didn’t win a Foothill League game until 2015), while Muir noted Valencia’s ability to outscore opponents (730-265 in total this season).
“I told the kids at the end of the game, ‘One game can’t dictate your season, even though that’ the only one you’ll remember,’” said Kelley.
Some GV players are already hitting the weight room. Both the Grizzlies and the Vikings plan to have workouts in full swing shortly after Christmas break ends.
Although the embers of a championship loss will always simmer, the spark of a new season is never far away.