By Justin Powell
For The Signal
Friday night’s game at Harry Welch Stadium opened with both Golden Valley and Canyon exercising gestures of somber remembrance of things larger than football, honoring the memories of a pair of local coaches who died in 2020.
Each team took a delay of game penalty after the opening kickoff: Golden Valley received the opening kick and delayed the game on their first play in memory of the late Eric Harris, a Golden Valley coach who died in March 2020. And, Canyon took a delay of game penalty on its opening drive, in memory of the late Ernie Figueroa, a Canyon coach who died in May 2020.
As for the game itself, it was all Golden Valley, which finished the 2021 season with a convincing 40-7 win.
The Grizzlies responded to Zach Figueroa’s interception of a Jaxson Miner pass with a 47-yard interception of their own that Noah Thompson returned for the opening score. It was the first of many offensive struggles on the night for Canyon junior quarterback Ty Sparks and the Cowboys offense.
Inconsistent offensive play plagued the Cowboys all season and Friday night was no exception. Sparks was 1-for-11 for 10 yards passing in the first half to go along with two interceptions, and the offense managed just one first down. The Cowboys’ best offensive play in the first half was the hard count, which Sparks used effectively to draw the Grizzlies offside three times.
“It’s just focusing on execution,” said Canyon head coach Joe Maiale. “As a program, making sure we do the little things right, and a lot of times this year and tonight we just didn’t do that when we needed to.”
The Cowboys’ lone score came late in the second quarter off of a Golden Valley turnover, the result of pressure from a booming punt by MaxPreps 2019 All-American Jarrett Reeser.
Reeser’s punt pinned the Grizzlies inside their own 15-yard line, and Golden Valley fumbled on the next play. Canyon (0-5) quickly converted the turnover into points on a 5-yard rushing touchdown from Dylan Roof. Roof was the one bright spot on the night for the Cowboys offense, accounting for their two best offensive plays (the other a 56-yard run on the opening drive of the third quarter).
Golden Valley scored on four consecutive possessions after the interception on the opening drive, with junior quarterback Jaxson Miner finding his groove midway through the first quarter. Miner threw four first-half touchdown passes, including a 34-yarder to Julian Sandoval-Brown late in the first quarter that gave the Grizzlies a 27-0 lead after the conversion.
Two of those Miner touchdown passes went to senior wideout Carlos Meza, who finished with five catches for 67 yards and the two touchdowns in the final game of his prep career. He, along with Noah Thompson (interception), Luke McCoy (interception) and Jacob Cipperley (receiving touchdown) each had big nights to finish their senior seasons.
“You know, we were really looking forward to the 2020 season. We had 27 seniors coming back from an 8-2 football team that had big, historic wins last year,” said Golden Valley head coach Dan Kelley. “Some of those guys had to opt out for personal reasons … but for them to get the five games, they were optimistic and they stayed positive throughout.”
After a furious finish to the second quarter that saw three personal foul penalties and a goal-line interception by Canyon senior Josh Perrin in the final minute, the second half had a much different tone. A running clock and both teams intent on running the football meant the third and fourth quarters moved swiftly.
Golden Valley (2-2-1) put the exclamation point on its victory with 3:14 left in regulation, when junior Noah Rodriguez plunged into the end zone from the one for his first touchdown, the game’s final score.