By Matt Lechuga
For The Signal
Of all the highlight plays Golden Valley senior wide receiver/safety Ajani Smith made in the Grizzlies’ 34-20 win over Hart (1-4, 0-1) on Friday night, it was the one that didn’t count that got the biggest reaction.
Up 27-13 with 7:24 to play, the Grizzlies (5-1, 2-0) were driving to put the game away for good. On fourth and 4, Smith broke to the back right corner of the end zone where he made a twisting, one-handed grab to seemingly ice the game. Except the referees ruled his foot out of bounds.
“I had it, I knew my foot was in,” Smith said with a small smirk forming across his face. “I felt good out there. I’m happy I’m helping the team get the W. It just feels great.”
Smith finished the game with six catches for 93 yards, two touchdown receptions and two interceptions.
Things couldn’t have started much better for the Grizzlies as they forced and recovered a fumble on Hart’s opening series of the game. Two plays later wide receiver Smith pulled down a jump ball from quarterback Christopher Melkonian for a 36-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing Hart drive, Grizzlies linebacker Hayden Kalmar intercepted Timmy Larkins’ pass at the line of scrimmage, setting up another Melkonian-Smith connection — another jump ball that had Smith leaping over the Hart cornerback and safety covering on the play to push the Golden Valley lead to 14-0.
The Indians stabilized in the second quarter as they marched down the field on a 13-play drive that was capped with a direct-snap, reverse pass with running back Chris Clauss pitching back to Ryan De La Maza, who hit Larkin in the end zone to make the score 14-6.
Golden Valley (5-1, 2-0) seemed to be putting the game away when, in the third quarter, Julian Rios ran in from 4 yards out and Larkins was picked off again, this time by Brian Jones after the ball bounced off the Hart receiver’s hands. Jones returned the interception 45 yards for the score to push the Grizzlies’ lead to 27-6.
“Hart is a well-coached program and we knew we would have to play our best football tonight,” said Golden Valley head coach Dan Kelley. “I thought we played really well on defense and our offense moved the ball. We sputtered at times, but we were able to put the ball in the end zone.”
The Indians (1-4, 0-1) scraped back with an 11-play drive finished off by a 16-yard touchdown pass from Larkins to running back Chris Clauss to make the score 27-13. A Melkonian 2-yard sneak and a 13-yard strike from Larkins to Shawn Irwin ended the scoring to make the final score 34-20.
In all, the Grizzlies forced five turnovers, a new season high, with a fumble recovery and four interceptions.
“I’m not mad at our defense; I thought our defense played pretty well,” said Hart head coach Rick Herrington. “Turnovers would give them great field position then we’d hold them until they converted on a fourth down. They never gave up, which was good to hear.”
Next Friday Golden Valley will try to stay undefeated in league play when they visit Valencia, and Hart will look for its first Foothill League win at home against West Ranch.