Valencia Vikings football suffered its first loss of the season on Friday on the road against the Rancho Cucamonga Cougars.
The Cougars beat Valencia for the third straight year in yet another tight battle, winning the game, 22-20.
The Vikings (3-1) came out slow, allowing Rancho (4-0) to jump to a quick 12-0 lead. Valencia was able to settle in, battled back and trailed 15-10 at halftime.
Vikes head coach Larry Muir saw his team play a miserable first quarter but felt great about where the team was midway through Friday’s non-league contest.
“It was 15-10 at halftime. We were right there, so we felt pretty good with being right there playing as poorly as we did,” Muir said in a phone interview.
Valencia leaned heavily on senior kicker Joseph Monti, who drilled two clutch field goals to keep the team in business.
“Joseph Monti really did a terrific job for us kicking and really stepped up,” Muir said.
The Vikings drove down the field in the second quarter and found their first touchdown on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by sophomore Brady Bretthauer.
The Viking defense played well and likely prompted a change at quarterback for the Cougars.
Rancho wide receiver Dillon Skyes reeled in a touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to go up 22-13.
Valencia remained unrattled and answered immediately with a receiving touchdown of its own by running back Brian Bonner. Bonner took a screen pass to the house on a pass from senior quarterback Jackson Askins to get within two points of the Cougars.
Vikings senior Jordan Cardenas then sparked the team with a late interception, bringing the Valencia offense back out on the field.
The Vikings drove into field goal range but penalties cost the team in crunch time, pushing the offense out of Monti’s target zone. Valencia fought but couldn’t get any more points on the board and took its first loss of 2023.
Valencia had numerous drives in the second half where penalties or mental mistakes cost the team points.
“We were driving the ball down the field but two penalties hurt the team,” Muir said. “We felt good moving the ball but we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot. That’s what we have to clean up. We have a lot of mental errors we’ll need to work on.”
Muir thought his team had a solid performance but knows they’re nowhere near as good as they can be. After a lackluster 2022 season, the consensus was that Valencia football was back in 2023. The Vikings are off to a terrific start to the season, but Muir will hope to continue to see growth and meet the high standards he has implemented at Valencia.
“We’re not there yet,” Muir said. “We’re a good football team, there’s no question about that, but at the same time we can play way better than we have. We’ve started games slowly and picked it up later. There’s things we can do much, much better.”
The Vikings open up Foothill League play next week in a road matchup with the Saugus Centurions.
Saugus is looking for its first win of the season and always plays a tough battle with Valencia regardless of the season’s circumstances.
The Vikings and Centurions kick off Thursday at 7 p.m. at College of the Canyons.