by Christopher Mohr
(RANCHO SAN DIEGO) November 6th - High school football coaches often remind their players that the game is 48 minutes long and to achieve success, you must play hard for all 48 of those minutes. Friday night's football game at Steele Canyon High School between the host Cougars and the visiting Norsemen of Valhalla High School was a great example of why this reminder is so true.
It took a little over 47 minutes of game time to decide the outcome as Valhalla survived a late surge in a 14-7 win over Steele Canyon. The victory gave the Norsemen the 2009 Grossmont South League title, the first in the school's 35-year history.
Steele Canyon gained the early momentum in this game when their defense tightened up on Valhalla's opening drive. In spite of giving up a 20 yard pass play from Pete Thomas to Mike Bazzi and committing a personal foul penalty, the Cougar defense woud not allow the high-powered Norsemen offense to move any deeper than Steele Canyon's 10-yard line. Valhalla failed to convert on a fourth-and-two and Steele Canyon took over on downs.
The Cougars responded with a 19 play drive that lasted 11:10, nearly an entire quarter, and ended on a two-yard touchdown run by Brad Boehmke to give Steele Canyon a 7-0 lead. Fifteen of the plays on the drive were running plays and except for Boehmke's run, they were either runs by Jake Wregg or Alex Perlin.
Steele Canyon's drive was part of an obvious strategy to slow down the pace of the game, keep Thomas and his offense on the sideline and to wear out the Norseman defense.
"We've been through this situation before where we've been out there on the field for a long time, so we just sucked it up. Bend but don't break defense," said Valhalla defensive end Shane Pennix about having to stay out on the field on defense during the Cougars' lengthy drive.
If your opponent is going to limit your opportunity to have the ball and score as Steele Canyon did, then you better score quickly when you have the chance. Valhalla wasted no time responding to Steele Canyon's time-eating scoring drive.
The response seemed like an act of one-upmanship as the Norsemen used only five plays and 1:01 of game time to tie the score at seven. Thomas connected with pass plays of 20 yards to Nino Mallory and 13 yards to Matt Swanger. Those two plays, along with a personal foul penalty by the Cougars moved the ball nearly half the length of the field in just three plays. Thomas then ran for nine yards to set up a nine yard touchdown run by Traivonne Brown.
Neither team had much success moving the ball the remainder of the first half. The Cougars committed three penalties on the next drive and could not get the yardage needed to keep their punting unit on the sideline. In its remaining possession in the first half, Valhalla struggled to gain yardage against a spirited Steele Canyon defense. The score remained knotted up at seven at halftime.
So far, Steele Canyon's ball control strategy worked effectively. It allowed them to hold onto the ball and keep Thomas on the sideline for over 17 minutes in the first half. If they could continue to do that, and play good defense, they had a shot at winning the game.
One weakness of a ball control offense is that it doesn't do much good if your opponent can score quickly in those rare opportunities when they finally have the ball. Unfortunately for Steele Canyon, that proved to be the case as Valhalla one-upped themselves when their second scoring drive was even shorter than their first.
This time the Norsemen needed only three plays to score. Thomas connected with Jevon Hasten on a 65 yard ouchdown pass play that put Valhalla ahead 14-7. It was a beautiful pass that Hasten caught in full stride, allowing him to outrun Cougar defenders on the way to the end zone.
"He's going to be a hell of a receiver and I think he showed it on that play," Thomas said about Hasten and his touchdown catch.
What was more impressive than the timing and execution of that play was the mental toughness needed to make it possible. On the previous play, the Norsemen were flagged for a 15 yard chop block penalty. Such setbacks are usually emotionally deflating and can kill a drive. Teams have to develop selective amnesia to overcome the setback and focus on the next play.
The game was far from over as the scrappy Cougars had two opportunities to tie the game, but could not protect the football in either one. They went on an impressive 12 play drive in the fourth quarter that made it all the way to Valhalla's six yard line only to lose the ball to the Norsemen on a fumble. Another Cougar drive in the final minute ended when Valhalla's Kweishi Brown intercepted a pass from Boehmke. A couple of kneel-downs by Thomas ran out the clock and the Norsemen had won the game and their first football league title.
"This is awesome, this is right up there with going to the Q last year. The banner up in our gym says no league champs, no CIF champs, so we really wanted to be the first team in Valhalla history to do it," Thomas said about the team's first football league title in school history.
"It feels really good, it feels amazing because this is something Valhalla has never done before and we made history tonight, so I think we all appreciate it, we came together as a family and we got a win," Pennix said about Valhalla's league title.
With the win, Valhalla advanced to 7-2 overall and 4-0 in Grossmont South League play. They travel to Granite Hills (3-6, 0-4) next week to face the Eagles.
Steele Canyon drops to 5-3-1 on the season and 2-1-1 in Grossmont South League play. They travel to Monte Vista (2-7, 1-3) to face the Monarchs.
This will be the final game of the regular season for both teams as CIF playoffs begin the following week.
Christopher Mohr is a freelance writer in the San Diego area and is an avid Chargers, Padres and Detroit Red Wings fan.
SC - Boehmke 2 run (Bruder kick)
V - Brown 9 run (Giandoni kick)
V - Hasten 65 pass from Thomas (Giandoni kick)