Coach Larry Muir has put together one of the Southern Section’s most successful football programs at Valencia High, winning 11 of the last 13 Foothill League titles and making 15 playoff appearances in 17 seasons.
Yet none of that success had paid off in a section title until Friday, when Ray Hall’s two touchdowns and a swarming defense led the Vikings to a 28-14 win over Oaks Christian in the Division 5 championship game.
“It’s been such a long, long road for the program, history of the school, all the players that before came here,” said Muir, who was swarmed by well-wishers on the field, most of whom greeted him with one word: finally.
“These kids have gone through so much to get to this point. I’m just so proud of these guys. I love them to death,” he said. “I’m just speechless.”
Muir’s first conversation after the victory came in a cell call to his wife Pam, who is the director of operations for the UCLA women’s basketball team, which was playing a tournament game in Florida on Friday.
“All I thought about was her,” Muir said.
Valencia’s first title came after a lackluster regular season in which it finished third in the Foothill League with a 2-2 record, the two losses matching the Vikings’ league total for the previous 10 years combined. They got hot when it counted though, winning their final five games.
However it was Oaks Christian, which started the season 0-5 then rallied to reach the division final, that got off to the hot start Friday, marching 82 yards in 12 plays on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead on senior quarterback Cole Tannenbaum’s one-yard keeper.
Valencia (8-4) matched that on its first drive, driving 68 yards in six plays before Hall scored on a swerving 16-yard dash. The score was still tied at intermission, thanks largely to Valencia senior Duhron Goodman, who blocked Aidan Flintoft’s 25-yard field-goal attempt with 70 seconds left in the second quarter.
The score didn’t stay tied for long. When Valencia won the pregame coin flip Muir chose to receive the second-half kickoff and that proved to be a good decision when Hall gathered the ball just outside the end zone and dashed 99 yards for his second touchdown.
On Oak Christian’s ensuing possession, Goodman made a diving interception of a tipped pass deep in Lions’ territory and two plays later junior Daniel Hernandez scored on a three-yard run, giving Valencia two touchdowns within three minutes of the third quarter and a 21-7 lead.
Oaks Christian (7-7) responded with a 35-yard scoring strike from Tannenbaum to Elijah Gipson but that was as close as the Lions got, with Valencia’s Giorgio Spiropoulos closing out the scoring with nine-yard run midway through the final quarter.
Johnny Thompson rushed for 88 yards in 14 carries in the first half for Oaks Christian, but after Valencia built a two-touchdown lead early in the third quarter, the Lions were forced to go to the air to play catch-up. As a result Thompson carried the ball just once in the fourth quarter and finished with 112 yards in 19 carries.