The Oaks Christian and Valencia football programs have some history. They played each other in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 title game in 2017, and Oaks Christian won by a point in that game. Vikings head coach Larry Muir remembers it very well.
“There’s been a lot of history, you know,” he said. “We played them in the semis and the finals and anything else. So tonight it was great for our program and for our families and our community. That was what was important.”
The Vikings beat Oaks Christian Friday night 28-14, earning themselves the CIF-SS Division 5 title — the school’s first-ever CIF-SS title. Going from finishing fourth in the Foothill league to winning a CIF title shows the resilience of this team.
“There were times in the year where, like, we had a lot of soul searching going on,” Muir said. “We had to keep fighting through the frustration and getting better and all the credit to the kids.”
On the opening possession of the game, Oaks Christian moved the ball down the field with ease. With some help from Johnny Thompson having 7 carries on the drive with runs of 14 and 7 yards. The drive was capped off with a quarterback sneak from Cole Tannenbaum. The Lions took the lead early at 7-0 with 5:40 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings’ offense had an answer. A 20-yard touchdown run by wideout Ray Hall would tie the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter.
After some stops by both defenses in the second quarter, the Lions set up for a field goal, but the kick was blocked by the Vikings’ Duhron Goodman to force a turnover on downs.
The first half was dominated by defense. The score was tied at 7-all heading into halftime.
After a low-scoring first half, things changed in the second half. Valencia’s Ray Hall took the opening kickoff of the second half to the house. A 98-yard kickoff return touchdown gave the wideout his second touchdown of the night and the Vikings a 14-7 lead early in the third quarter.
“I just want to thank my blockers today,” Hall said. “They made the block for me, I just took it.”
Along with winning the championship game, this game meant more for Hall, who lost a friend to COVID-19 recently. He dedicated this season to his friend.
“Every day I always strive to be better for him,” Hall said. “This is what the outcome was.”
On the ensuing Lions drive, Tannenbaum made his first mistake of the night and threw his first interception of the game. Duhron Goodman got the interception for the Vikings, giving them a short field to work with already up seven points.
With the short field, Valencia quarterback Trey Erickson hit wideout Zamondre Merriweather for a big gain, getting the Vikings within five yards of scoring. On the next play, Daniel Hernandez scored a 3-yard rushing touchdown. The Vikings had a comfortable lead early in the third quarter with a 21-7 lead.
Oaks Christian needed something to happen on the offensive end. The Lions were faced with a fourth-and-short on their own 41-yard line. They converted and not too many plays later Tannebaum capped off an impressive drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass to wideout Elijah Gipson. The pass was almost broken up, but Gipson came down with it at the end. The Lions shortened Valencia’s lead 21-14 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Vikings were driving down the field looking to put the game away. Giorgio Spiropoulos bounced a run to the outside and scored a 10-yard rushing touchdown. This all but secured the win for the Vikings, giving them a lead of 28-14 with 7:16 left in the fourth quarter.
“As a running back, you gotta follow your instinct,” Spiropoulos said. “I said, I’m bouncing it out, stiff-armed a guy, and fought for the end zone.”
Vikings pass-rusher Victor Saenez got two sacks on Tannenbaum, stalling any comeback attempt from the Lions.
“It’s an unreal feeling, you know, just to ball out with my brothers,” Saenez said. “I’ve been playing with them for four years and I left it all out for them.”
After a very tough season with a rough start to COVID-19 cancellations, the Vikings ended their season perfectly. Next season will be their first year ever trying to repeat as CIF-SS champions.