By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
For The Signal
Junior Ajani Smith carried Golden Valley on an unbelievable four-touchdown night for the two-way player, but it wouldn’t be enough to defeat the La Mirada Matadores.
Smith would score three touchdown receptions as well as running back a pick-six, registering the bulk of the Grizzly points.
The Matadores would run an outstanding two-minute drill at the end of the game and wide receiver Xavier Hicks would deliver the final blow with a touchdown reception.
La Mirada held a 15-8 lead early and threatened to pull away late in the second quarter. The Grizzlies were in trouble but two-way standout Chris Melkonian gave Golden Valley life with an interception.
The Grizzlies woke up and Smith capped off the ensuing drive with a 36-yard touchdown to take the lead just before the half.
“I wanted to put it on the line for the seniors,” said Smith. “I put it all out there, and did the best I can do.”
Smith held onto every bit of momentum he had and it showed as he picked off La Mirada quarterback Nehuel Garcia on the first play of the second half and ran it back for six.
The Matadores would battle back and retake the lead thanks to two consecutive rushing scores by running back Edward Laffare.
The Grizzlies held onto the lead, 29-28, with two minutes to go in the game. Head coach Dan Kelley opted to go for the touchdown on fourth and goal but the Grizzlies were turned away.
A field goal would’ve allowed Golden Valley to play for a tie on the final drive.
The game was flooded with penalties heavily outweighed against the Golden Valley side, including two questionable calls on the game-winning drive.
“I’m not really happy with the officiating tonight, I’m going to address that,” Kelley said. “I thought it was very one-sided, especially at the end.”
Golden Valley’s first playoff berth since 2017 was cut short. The 2017 team also went 2-3 in league play but managed to make a deep run in the playoffs, winning three games.
However, this year, the Golden Valley offense struggled in league play with the Foothill League stacked with run-stuffing defenses.
Grizzly running back — and focal point of the offense — Jared Giles was held out of the end zone in his final outing for Golden Valley. Giles still had a solid game with a handful of big runs.
Quarterback Jaxson Miner did all he could as well, throwing all three touchdowns to Smith.
The Grizzlies finished the regular season with a 42-0 blowout win over Canyon. However, the team scored less than 42 points in the its three games prior combined, all of which resulted in losses to Foothill League teams that were also in the playoffs.
La Mirada entered Friday’s game nearly the exact opposite. The Matadores have won their last two games (as well as having a victory due to a forfeit), with some of their highest-scoring marks of the year in these games.
Kelley was nonetheless proud of the team tonight and its accomplishments this season.
“It’s a playoff mentality,” said Kelley. “And our kids played with that tonight. I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys.”