By Ryan Menzie
Signal Sports Writer
The Valencia Vikings lost the last game last season to the Saugus Centurions, ultimately ending their season and costing them the league title for the first time in 11 seasons. The West Ranch Wildcats did not want to jump-start the Vikings’ redemption season, and succeeded.
For the first time under head coach Chris Varner, the Wildcats (5-1, 1-0) beat the Vikings (2-3, 0-1), 23-20. Varner had been coaching in the Santa Clarita Valley for 10 seasons prior to Friday’s victory against the Vikings.
The Vikings came out with the first score of the game, a 20-yard rushing touchdown by running back Giorgio Spiropoulos. All looked right for the Vikings, but the West Ranch Wildcats did not back down.
“It was a tough game,” said Vikings head coach Larry Muir. “It was a game that went back and forth, we were looking for some breaks in the second half but we weren’t able to capitalize on them. Hats off to West Ranch for a great game.”
The Wildcats answered back with quarterback Ryan Staub, who finished the first half with 211 passing yards and two touchdowns, which included a 73-yard pass to Maverick Diaz and was capped off with a 10-yard passing touchdown to Chaz Hilst. Staub would finish the game with 295 passing yards.
Vikings quarterback Tyler Voss finished the first half with 158 passing yards, but a costly interception midway through the second quarter to Brady Van Bennekum, who ran it back for a 57-yard score, stopped any momentum for the Vikings.
The Wildcats’ defensive line was harassing Voss, giving him no time to throw on the way to two first-half sacks. The Wildcats would finish the game with four sacks.
With under two minutes left to go in the first half, Staub connected on his second touchdown, this time to Dylan Cotti on a 25-yard strike to finish the half up 20-7.
“Nothing beats this feeling. It doesn’t get any better,” said Cotti when asked about what it means to beat Valencia. “They had a big rally but we trust our guys. We have a stud quarterback and that’s all we need out here. I love our guys out here.”
The Vikings needed to make adjustments in the second half to stay in the game, and they did, but the Wildcats kept their foot on the pedal.
Off the first drive coming out of halftime, the Vikings drove the ball down the field in three plays, but Voss got hurt on a quarterback draw. Voss was carried off to the sideline and was seen in visible pain for the rest of the game. Voss never returned to the field and was seen with a knee brace on his left knee.
Even with the injury, the Vikings’ hopes stayed high with backup quarterback Trey Erickson leading the charge, throwing two key touchdowns to tie up the game entering the fourth quarter.
Staub had an impressive first half, but three key interceptions helped fuel the Vikings’ run. Two of the interceptions were caught by Tyler Thompson.
The Vikings also had their share of turnovers. Spiropoulos fumbled in the fourth quarter, which led to the eventual 25-yard game winning field goal by Jason Anderson.
The game was solidified after Erickson threw a crucial interception to William Seidel off the first drive after the field goal.
“They believed more than I did when it came to finally beating Valencia,” said Varner. “They came through in the end. We knew they were a good team. Fortunately, we still had enough in the tanks. These kids fought and gave everything up to protect the win.”