By Matt Lechuga
For The Signal
Things couldn’t have gone much better for the Valencia Vikings in their 45-13 win over host Rio Mesa in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division V playoffs on Friday.
In a year when not much has gone right for the Vikings, with starting quarterback Tyler Voss going out with an injury and losing two games to COVID-19, the change in luck was a welcome one.
The Vikings benefitted from just about every mistake and big play a team can have: an opening kickoff return for a touchdown, a fumble recovery, a muffed punt recovery, a bad snap on a punt that gave them the ball on the opposing 1-yard line, another bad snap on a punt that resulted in a safety. And all of that was just in the first half.
“For the year that we’ve had, it was highly unusual,” said Valencia head coach Larry Muir. “We haven’t had that all year long so it was pretty amazing for us. You feel good about it and hope that it’s a sign of things to come. We had a good week of practice, the kids prepared well, and they had the right mental approach to the game.”
Valencia jumped out to an immediate 8-0 lead thanks to Ryan Crayton returning the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. They added another touchdown after recovering a Rio Mesa fumble when quarterback Trey Erickson hit Zamondre Merriweather for a 10-yard score to make it 15-0.
After a Spartan three-and-out, a bad snap on a punt put the ball at the 1-yard line, where Erickson took it in on a keeper. Another Rio Mesa punt led to a 5-yard touchdown rush from Caleb Yang to make it 29-0 at the end of the first quarter.
“We’ve been wanting to seek revenge for the losing season we’ve had, the tough deals we’ve all had to go through to get here,” said Erickson. “We just wanted to put it all on the field in that first half.”
Rio Mesa opened the third quarter with another three-and-out, but, backed up against their own end zone, the punter stepped on the back line while catching the snap for a safety.
Nine plays later Erickson hit Merriweather for their second touchdown connection, a 15-yard pass across the middle.
The lone highlight for the Spartans came on a 57-yard touchdown double pass from JJ Bittner to Adrian Gonzales to Jayden Lee to make the score 38-7. But the Vikings quickly responded with a 28-yard pass from Erickson to Yang on a swing out of the backfield, where Yang broke multiple tackles and ran it in, making the score 45-7.
The Vikings are hoping this newfound luck will carry over next week when they face La Habra in the second round.
“We just have to go 1-0 for the week, honestly,” said Merriweather. “That’s always been the mentality for this whole season. I think we have a really good chance of winning this whole thing, so we’ll see.”