Centurions’ football (8-2, 4-1) won its regular season finale against Golden Valley (6-4, 3-3) Friday night at Canyon.
Saugus is now the outright Foothill League runner up while the Grizzlies fall into a three-way tie for third.
The Centurions were led by quarterback TJ Cataldi and now-running back Dario Sandoval.
Cataldi went 18 of 22 for 242 yards and accounted for two scores.
Sandoval is a typical threat in the Saugus pass rush and in the receiving corps. Friday night the senior took his first eight carries of the season for 38 yards and two touchdowns.
“It felt good,” said Sandoval. “I was practicing all week because we had injuries so I had to step it up. So I did my thing.”
Golden Valley had a good number of chances in the game but two first-half special teams turnovers led to quick Saugus points.
The Grizzlies’ first turnover came on the first play of the game. Senior Julian Rios fumbled the opening kickoff return, setting up a quick Saugus score.
Cataldi hit wide receiver AJ Goodman for a 12-yard TD reception on a crossing route to take the first lead.
The Grizzlies would answer right away on their first drive. The split backs formation developed short run plays that wore down Saugus on a long opening drive.
Quarterback Chris Melkonian ran in the team’s first score on fourth and one on the goal line to get the Grizzlies started.
Cataldi threw the ball well on his next two drives but penalties gutted Saugus.
Saugus would again be set up to score after the Grizzlies muffed a punt late in the second quarter. Cataldi would take in a quarterback keeper of his own from the 1-yard line to take a 14-7 lead.
Golden Valley nearly threatened deep into Saugus territory but an offensive pass interference call pushed the Grizzlies back too far just before the halftime break.
Kicker Paige McGee would make it a two-score game with a 28-yard field goal on Saugus’ second half opening drive.
Golden Valley got creative on its next drive. The team executed a perfect double pass as Melkonian would pass backward to receiver William Hake, who threw back to his quarterback in stride. Melkonian nearly had a 72-yard score but was caught at the 2-yard line.
The Grizzly gunslinger would run in his second score a couple of plays later.
The double pass was the one big play Saugus wasn’t ready for but the team prepared well for the Grizzlies, who had two weeks to prepare for Saugus.
“We worked on getting every receiver involved,” said Cataldi. “We also knew coming into that of our players were injured but big guys to stepped up and I feel like the people that we needed to step up really did.”
Cataldi got basically all of his receivers involved, completing passes to seven different Centurions.
Sandoval started getting carries for the first time this season in the third quarter. The Centurion backfield has filled the majority of the team’s loaded injury report this season. Running back Jake Viger would exit the game in the second quarter with a leg injury, clearing up the job for Sandoval.
Sandoval took his first rush for 5 yards before later hitting a 22-yard rush. He’d cap off the next two Centurion drives with short scores.
“Dario was running hard,” said Cataldi. “They really couldn’t bring him down.”
Golden Valley struggled on offense to close the game. A fumble, sack and a Matthew Stirwalt interception would keep the Grizzlies out of the end zone late in the game and Saugus went into victory formation.
“I think the defensive line and the pressure on the quarterback was great,” said Sandoval. “So all we had to do was stop the run because our pressure is there for the quarterback when they passed.”
The Centurions have overcome several major injuries and still finished the season with eight wins.
“Everybody’s dealing with adversity and everybody’s dealing with injuries and everybody’s got to find a way to plug in the holes and fill in the gaps where needed,” said Saugus head coach Jason Bornn. “So, tonight was a great testament to our kids during that.”
Viger has missed time this year as well as other two-way running backs Deohn Turner and Vinnie Gallagher.
It’s unclear how healthy Saugus will be heading into CIF next week but the team has to feel good with a solid win like Friday’s.
The Grizzlies are now in a three-way tie for third. No tiebreaker rules out one above the other so while all three finish third in league, a coin flip will determine which two go into the playoffs for the second year in a row. Hart had its coin flip earlier this week and will be officially going to playoffs after getting the short end of the stick last year as Valencia and Golden Valley entered the postseason.
The top five Foothill League teams find out their destinations on Sunday when the CIF playoff brackets are released at 10 a.m.