By Ryan Menzie
Signal Sports Writer
The Valencia Vikings blew the gates open with a 45-yard kickoff return on the first possession of the game. The La Habra Highlanders stopped the Vikings from a huge kickoff return touchdown, but remained in the rear-view mirror and unable to catch up the rest of the game.
The Vikings (6-4) beat the Highlanders (6-6) 24-6 on Friday and kept the playoff journey alive as the final remaining Santa Clarita Valley high school team. Despite finishing third in the Foothill League, the Vikings have now won two playoff games and have surpassed their league opponents, silencing any doubts the Vikings had from their regular season.
“I just think our kids persevered through so much frustration throughout the year,” said Vikings head coach Larry Muir. “All the credit for them to getting through all this so far. With everything that has been going on, it’s been a lot of adversity, but they turned it into growth every step of the way. No matter what’s been in front of them, they continued to go and get better every single day.”
The Vikings entered the postseason without their starting quarterback Tyler Voss, who got injured in the first Foothill League matchup against West Ranch, but backup quarterback Trey Erickson has answered his call as the next man up.
Despite throwing an interception in the end zone to defensive back Damian Gomez for what could have been his third touchdown of the half, Erickson finished the first half with 123 passing yards and a 19-yard passing touchdown to wide receiver Duhron Goodman. Erickson would also run in a 2-yard score on the first drive of the game.
“It was a tough start, but we had to get the ball moving,” said Erickson. “We just have to work on the little things, don’t underestimate anybody and we will go far.”
The offense was clicking on all cylinders for the Vikings, who rushed for 85 yards in the first half alone, but the defense deserves credit forcing a first-half shutout that kept the Vikings up 14-0. The Vikings produced six sacks as a team, giving no time for La Habra quarterback Justin Gil to make any throws.
Erickson was not done, with the first throw coming out of halftime being a 51-yard strike to Zamondre Merriweather, which helped set up a 44-yard field goal for Cameron Fontal,making the score 17-0. Merriweather would finish the game with four catches for 98 yards.
The game was pretty much in hand, but Erickson would throw a crucial interception before the end of the third quarter to Gomez, who was the lone bright spot for the Highlanders. Gomez would finish the game with two interceptions, including one taken back for 60 yards before being taken out of bounds by Merriweather.
“I felt like we did good today. We played together and it was a big team win,” said Merriweather. “The goal was to go 1-0. Catch every ball, run every route 100%. The same mentality for next week will help us propel to another win.”
La Habra managed to get on the board after the second Erickson interception with a pass from Gil to wide receiver Robert Hernandez to make the score 17-6, but it was too little, too late.
The Vikings would answer back with their own methodical drive in the fourth quarter, capped off with another Erickson rushing touchdown, which made the score 24-6 and the final score of the game. Erickson would finish the game with 198 passing yards and three total touchdowns.
The Vikings’ path in the playoffs continues to favor them, as with a Chino Hills victory the Vikings will play their next game at home on Friday at 7 p.m. against Chino Hills.