Vikings football (2-2) was downed, 21-14, by the visiting Rancho Cucamonga Cougars (3-1) in a rainy homecoming game at Valencia.
Rancho was led by Boise State commit, quarterback CJ Tiller, who finished with three touchdowns.
The Cougars overcame 12 penalties, 11 of which in the first three quarters to Valencia’s four but still managed to win.
Although they’re credited with the loss, Valencia’s defense carried the team throughout the night. The Vikings came up with three turnovers and a blocked punt.
Rancho running back Nehemiah Harrison started off the scoring with a 64-yard TD rush on Rancho’s first drive.
The Vikings didn’t get off to a hot start at all. The team came out with two straight three and outs.
The offense would eventually get going but wouldn’t score until their third trip into the red zone with two scoreless trips in the first quarter.
Vikings defensive end Jake Pikor blocked a punt to put Valencia in close but the team turned the ball over on downs.
On Rancho’s next drive, linebacker Reid Farrell intercepted Tiller for the game’s first turnover. The junior linebacker worked the ball down the field and, with more momentum than they could handle, Valencia finally scored.
Farrell, a 2021 CIF Defensive Player of the Year, finished the game with a pick and a sack.
“We knew this team was going to pass a lot,” said Farrell. “We set up a whole coverage for them and practiced all week against the pass.”
On the ensuing drive Valencia finally broke through. Quarterback Trey Erickson found a wide-open Dylan Kelly for a 20-yard touchdown reception to tie the game 7-7 in the second quarter.
The Cougars moved the ball well in their second-half opening drive. The run and pass game both clicked and the drive was capped off with a 9-yard rushing TD by Tiller.
Valencia wouldn’t answer early until early in the fourth. Rancho guided the Vikings down the field, with three of their plethora of penalties starting with an encroachment call on fourth and six.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said head coach Larry Muir. “They’re a good football team and they’re well-coached. We knew we’d have to have our best effort and perform at a high level. It was a very frustrating night because we made a lot of mistakes we normally don’t.”
The Vikings got a new set of downs from the QB sneak with wide receiver Dylan Kelly lined up under center. A handful of plays and penalties later, Erickson hit Tony Testa for a 9-yard score, tying the game at 14-14.
The Cougars still felt good about where they were and it showed on their next drive. Big runs by Malachi Dhanifu sparked a big drive to take the lead once more. Tiller capped off the drive again with a score, hitting Jason Harris for six.
Valencia quickly found themselves back on defense but an incredible one-handed pick from cornerback Jordan Cardenas brought the offense right back out.
The Vikings had plenty of time left as they worked the ball down the field. It would come down to a fourth and long in Rancho territory where Erickson overthrew his receiver and ending the Vikings’ hopes of tying the game.
“We’re going to be good this year,” said Farrell. “We just need to believe in ourselves a little more. We have flashes of a badass team. We just believe and do it every play, which we will.”
Valencia’s defense was everywhere with purple jerseys surrounding the ball all night. They’ll need the same formula as they head into league play next week. Valencia finishes league play 2-2 playing against some tough opponents. The Vikings have now played three teams ranked in the L.A. Times top 25.
“Defensively, you get a tough schedule like this to find out about yourself,” said Muir. “We’ll certainly learn from this and grow from this.”
The Vikings will return home Friday, Sept. 17, to host Saugus in their Foothill League opener at 7 p.m.