Hart and Valencia football set to renew rivalry this week

Hart's Drew Munoz (22) falls into the end zone to score in the first quarter against Valencia defender Diego Garcia (13) at Valencia last season. Dan Watson/The Signal

There is a lot on the line this Friday night at College of the Canyons, as the Hart football team hosts Valencia in a game that could determine the 2019 Foothill League champions.

It’s only the second league game of the year and there is still a lot of determining factors that will provide clarity as the season progresses, but in three out of the last five years, the winner of this game captured the league crown, all three times being Valencia.

In fact, Valencia has won the last 10 league titles, and the Vikings haven’t lost a league game to Hart since a 19-14 defeat in 2011. Hart fell to Valencia 24-19 in league in 2013, but won the rematch 28-21 in the Northern Division championship game.

Though it’s been six years since the Indians last bested the Vikings, the Hart players aren’t putting any extra pressure on themselves. 

“It’s just another football game, we just have to go out and play our game,” said Hart linebacker Travis Gill. “Maybe it has a little more implications, but we have to take it week-by-week, do what we do and practice hard. Treat it like any other game.”

“I think you get in trouble when you start trying to focus on things so far down the line, you can even build it up in your head the more you think about it,” Hart quarterback Zach Johnson said before the season about the Oct. 11 date with Valencia. “That being said, it’s hard not to look a little bit into the future and think about that sort of thing, especially because we are such a competitive league. 

“The main goal, and I talk about it with the guys too, is take it one game at a time and once that week comes, then we can really put all we’ve got into it and hopefully we do enough to come out on top.”

While the Indians will approach their meeting with the Vikings like any other game, it’s safe to say they know the importance of the matchup.

In Hart’s media guide, all 42 players on the roster were asked who their biggest rival is. Thirty of them answered Valencia.

“It’s going to be very intense, very hostile,” Ashton Thomas said about the upcoming game. “At practice everybody will be on each other, we have to pick up the slack and figure out what we’re doing wrong. No mistakes.”

In last year’s game, a 34-7 win for Valencia, Hart’s offense struggled mightily. The Indians accumulated just 131 yards of total offense and only four rushing yards. The defense also had difficulty stopping the run, allowing 282 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, including 150 yards and two scores for Valencia skill player Jake Santos.

Santos is back this year and currently leads the Vikings with 315 yards and five touchdowns on 53 carries.

But Hart’s run game is much improved this year, and senior back Taden Littleford will do his best to outdo Santos’ production on the ground. 

Littleford has the most rushing attempts in the league (121) and has the third-most yards (659). He is tied for second in touchdowns with nine.

“We have to get ready for Valencia. We got to step it up this week, 110%, no messing around, pumping weight, just giving it our all,” Littleford said after Hart’s win over Saugus last week. “It’s all heart in this game and we just got to put it all out there.”

Valencia quarterback Ryan Morrison, who started in his first league game last Friday against Canyon, was able to get the Vikings back into the win column after dropping three straight in preleague action.

Morrison threw for 321 yards, one touchdown and one interception, completing 22-of-29 passes. It’s the most yards he’s thrown for in six games this season, and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time with the crux of league approaching. 

The highly-anticipated contest between Hart and Valencia is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. at Cougar Stadium.

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