Sure, credit should be given to the team at Valley Christian, which took control in the second half behind a powerful run game and beat an opponent on the road that had been averaging 45 points per game.
The Warriors (8-3) will now play Archbishop Mitty of San Jose (11-1) next week in one of two All-West Catholic Athletic League semifinals (provided heavily favored Serra of San Mateo beats Pioneer of San Jose on Saturday) in the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division.
The big joke in the CCS is calling its top playoff division an “open” division. There’s nothing “open” about it because if it were truly an Open Division then the top eight teams in the section regardless of league affiliation or enrollment would be in it.
No one questions the obvious dominance of the WCAL in the CCS. It just seems to be more pronounced now due to the decline of the program at Oak Grove of San Jose, which in some years could take on and beat WCAL teams.
If the CCS really had an open division, there would be five and perhaps six WCAL teams in it. Instead, there is an open division actually with automatic qualifiers and one of those is the champion of the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division, which is where Terra Nova comes in.
Terra Nova, which is a public school with an enrollment of 1,146, was that team last year and had to play at Bellarmine in a first-round “Open” Division game. The Tigers lost 33-14. This year, they had one of the best teams in school history and although they were competitive against Valley Christian it was a step up that just couldn’t be made.
Head coach Bill Gray, who’s been coaching at Terra Nova and previously at Oceana of Pacifica since the 1980s and is one of the winningest coaches in CCS history, said he feels his teams have been the “sacrificial lambs” for the Open Division. It’s fairly obvious that Pioneer was another “sacrificial lamb” this year as well.
Although Gray said he was honored to play Valley Christian and that his team gave it its best shot, it’s hard to explain to an outstanding group of seniors who just lost their first game why they had to play Valley Christian and teams like Burlingame, Aptos, Live Oak of Morgan Hill and others with similar or even bigger enrollments did not.
The way in which the CCS conducts its “Open” Division also effects the CIF Northern California regional bowl games. Because of the “sacrificial lambs” that are put into the “Open” Division, there are other WCAL teams that should be in the “Open” that are instead playing for enrollment-based divisional titles.
Valley Christian was, in fact, one of those teams last year and won the CCS Division III title after going 4-6 in the regular season. This year, St. Francis of Mountain View could win the CCS Division II title and become eligible for the NorCal D2 bowl game at 10-3.
Will the Lancers have a case to be chosen if they win out? Yes. Would it be fair, given the inequalities of the CCS “Open” Division, for essentially the No. 5 team from a power league to get into the state bowl games in a lower division? No. Other fifth-place teams from power leagues from around the state don’t have that chance (although maybe they will in San Diego’s new “Open” Division).
Looking ahead, Valley Christian’s win was impressive nonetheless. The Warriors fought back after giving up an early 54-yard touchdown pass from Terra Nova’s Anthony Gordon to Jaylen Jones. They won even though Kirk Johnson, one of the state’s top junior running backs, was out with an injury.
“That was the plan, to control the clock, finish some drives and wear them down,” said Valley Christian head coach Mike Machado. “Everybody thinks we can’t win without Kirk, but we had his brother back (sophomore receiver Collin Johnson) and we have beaten other good teams without him.”
The Warriors didn’t tie the score at 7-7 until the final play of the first half when junior running back Tre McCloud bulled into the end zone on a 1-yard run. They then took the second half kickoff and went on a 79-yard scoring drive to take the lead on another 1-yard plunge by McCloud.
Back-to-back sacks of Gordon then pushed Terra Nova back from a potential tying touchdown, which was followed by a 30-yard field goal by Valley Christian’s Kody Kroening.
The final two scores of the game were another 1-yard run by McCloud and a safety. Terra Nova only had the ball three times in the entire second half and one of those possessions was the one-play safety.