Central of Fresno & Clayton Valley of Concord capture CIF state football titles on Friday night at Cerritos College. It’s the first title for both and the first one for a Fresno school in Division 1 or higher after the Grizzlies bounced Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth in the D1-AA final. Clayton Valley came through on defense to beat Aquinas of San Bernardino for D2-AA crown. Go inside to see who was selected as the MVPs of both games.
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Much was made about the depth of playmakers that have been utilized in recent weeks by the Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth football team as it advanced through the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs and then roared past CIF San Diego Section Open Division champion Helix of La Mesa in last week’s CIF Southern California Division 1-AA regional final.
On Friday night at Cerritos College, however, in the second of two CIF state title games played at Falcon Stadium, it was the Central of Fresno depth of playmakers that was the difference in a 34-19 victory over Sierra Canyon that gave the Grizzlies their first CIF state title and enabled them to finish 15-0.
It also was a breakthrough for the CIF Central Section in more general terms. The only team from the section before Central this year to win a state title in any of the top three divisions since the modern state championships began in 2006 was Bakersfield High in 2013. In that season, the Drillers were representing the south and defeated Del Oro of Loomis representing the north in Division 1.
“It’s just that a lot of us from the Central Valley have a chip on our shoulders,” said Central head coach Kyle Biggs, whose team was seventh in the most recent Cal-Hi Sports State Top 50 but will probably jump up to fifth for the final rankings. “We’re kind of a step-child for both the north and the south.”
A lot of the players also were chanting the Fresno area code (559) as they were celebrating, knowing that they were representing their town and their section.
Part of the reason, though, for lower rankings compared to other regions of the state is that the Grizzlies are only one season removed from seeing an unbeaten team last season lose in the CIF NorCal D1-AA regional final 82-46 to Folsom. Yes, the Bulldogs were outstanding, but that’s a lot of points to give up in a game like that. Biggs would only say that the defense had “tweaked some things” heading into this season, but for anyone who saw the defenses he had from 2018 to 2019 those tweaks created immense improvement.
Sierra Canyon was held to just two touchdowns and two field goals after scoring 38 against Helix the week before. For the entire season, the Grizzlies’ defense also gave up 100 fewer points this year compared to last year.
“We just weren’t satisfied after last season and after last week,” Biggs said. “We didn’t celebrate at all at Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) because we weren’t satisfied unless we could come down here and win state.”
Offensively, the key for Central was senior quarterback Jameson Silva’s ability at getting rid of the ball just an instant before getting clocked by an on-rushing, blitzing defender and then trusting his receivers to make plays.
Silva did that twice on the Grizzlies’ first scoring drive, the first for a 35-yard gain to senior David Brown and the second for 34-yard touchdown to junior Xavier Worthy. The PAT, however, was blocked by big-time Sierra Canyon sophomore defensive back Kamari Ramsey.
Sierra Canyon, which was trying to win a state title in D1-AA after losing 19-17 in last year’s D1-A state final to Liberty of Brentwood and fell to 3-2 in state finals over the years, scored its first points on a 26-yard field goal by Josh Bryan with 8:36 left in the second quarter. But the Trailblazers then fell behind 13-3 only three plays after the field goal when Silva beat the blitz again. This time it was on a screen pass to Cal-bound wideout Jeremiah Hunter, who weaved his way through the Sierra Canyon defense for a 64-yard touchdown.
After another Josh Bryan field goal made the score 13-6 at halftime, Sierra Canyon (14-2 and ranked ninth in the state) didn’t score on the opening series of the third quarter but sure did on its second. With a first-and-10 and starting a possession at their own 26, junior speedster Quatro Sumlin took a handoff and broke loose for a 72-yard touchdown. Instead of tying the score at 13-13, however, the PAT was missed.
Central then responded after Sumlin’s dash the way a champion does. The team went 80 yards in seven plays for its third touchdown. A 45-yard pass from Silva to Quali Conley got things going. The drive ended with a 5-yard TD pass from Silva to Anazjae Simpson.
Early in the fourth quarter following a fourth down stop by Central’s defense, it appeared that Sierra Canyon was going to get the ball on an interception by Ramsey and still in a one-possession game. That interception, however, was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty. Silva then hit on a bomb to Manuel Oliver-Davis to the 1-yard line to set up a 1-yard TD run by linebacker/goal-line fullback Je’kob Jones.
Sierra Canyon needed to score quickly after that and did on a 2-yard run by junior quarterback Chayden Peery with just under four minutes left in the game. The Trailblazers didn’t get the onside kick, but did force a quick punt by the Grizzlies. They got the ball back at the 4-yard line with 2:57 left and needed to drive the field for a possible game-tying touchdown. Disaster instead struck when Peery was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, which resulted in a safety and a score at 28-19 that made it almost impossible for a comeback. The final touchdown of the game came on a 27-yard run by Jones.
GAME MVP: Jameson Silva (Central, Fresno)
This was an easy one. The senior quarterback, who played previously at Edison of Fresno, had the task of getting the ball to his fleet corps of receivers while facing blitzers coming at him from all angles. He did it to the tune of 21 completions in 39 attempts for 353 yards and three touchdowns (one interception). Silva’s yardage total ranks fifth on the all-time list for CIF state finals in any division.
“We knew they were going to blitz and they brought the pressure,” he said. “I just had to get the ball out before they got back to hit me. I definitely had confidence in my receivers. It doesn’t matter if they’ve got some five-star guy covering them. I’m going to give my guy a chance.”
Hunter, who will go down as one of the top receivers in Central Section history, was Silva’s top target on the night with seven grabs for 120 yards and one TD. Simpson had six for 66.
Sumlin had a fine outing for the Trailblazers. He rushed for 96 yards on nine carries and he caught eight passes for 44 yards. Peery didn’t have any interceptions, but was only 24 of 43 passing for 237 yards.
Clayton Valley 10, Aquinas 7
When you’re the Ugly Eagles, winning ugly would only seem natural. But it was beautiful the way it was executed by head coach Tim Murphy’s crew on Friday night at Cerritos College.
Clayton Valley used an offense that chewed up clock, didn’t commit any turnovers and relied on a defense that held its San Bernardino-based opponent to just 68 yards until the middle of the fourth quarter in winning the school’s first CIF state title.
The Ugly Eagles had lost in their two previous CIF state finals’ appearances, first in 2014 to Redlands East Valley in Division II (in the last year of the previous five division state format) and then in 2016 to Narbonne of Harbor City in D1-A (in the first year of the newer every-section-title-team-gets-to-play-in-the-regionals format).
But the journey for Murphy has been much longer, going to back to his days at Clovis East of Clovis when a team he had there that had won the CIF Central Section D1 title wasn’t selected for a CIF state bowl game in 2006 (which was the first year of the modern state finals). There also were other strong teams he had at Clayton Valley that were stuck playing in the same CIF North Coast Section playoff bracket as national powerhouse De La Salle.
“I was starting to feel the Marv Levy monkey (referring to former Buffalo Bills’ head coach) crawling up my back,” said Murphy, whose team became the first Concord school other than De La Salle (which has won seven) to win a state title. “It’s huge because I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m getting near the end. I may not get this opportunity again.”
Aquinas (13-3) was the higher-ranked team, but only slightly based on its earlier CIF Southern Section D5 playoff wins over Oxnard, Glendora, St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs and its win last week over CIFSS D4 champion San Juan Hills. Clayton Valley (10-5) will rise up in next week’s final state rankings. Most of its losses are to higher-ranked CIF North Coast Section teams, including De La Salle, Liberty (Brentwood) and Monte Vista (Danville).
“I thought we played great defense, but we couldn’t get anything going on offense,” said Aquinas head coach Jordan Brusig. “I’m proud of our guys because it takes a lot to hold them to 10 points. I’m so proud how they’ve grown over the season. It should make them hungrier next season.”
Clayton Valley and Murphy are known for rarely punting, and even though the Ugly Eagles failed on their first three attempts to pick up a fourth down, their defense made sure that it didn’t cost them anything. Then on their fourth fourth down try, quarterback Jake Kern ran for five yards to pick one up. Two plays later he executed a throwback screen to Erik Christoffersen, who broke a tackle and ran for a 31-yard gain. Clayton Valley punched it in from there with junior Omari Taylor running for a 1-yard TD on a fourth-and-goal play.
Taylor was a focal point after the game since it’s been well-documented that his older brother Omar Jr. was killed in a shooting in Orinda on Halloween night in which four others also died.
“He was frustrated tonight, but I just told him to keep battling,” Murphy said. “He never lost his intensity and never got down.”
Aquinas received the second half kick, but only could get one first down. The Falcons went three-and-out on their second series of the half, sandwiched around a nine-play drive by Clayton Valley that resulted in no points but major minutes off the clock for a team with the lead. The Ugly Eagles then went on another similar drive that lasted into the fourth quarter. There was another fourth-down conversion on that one and that one did get points when Murphy sent out sophomore kicker Shane Nelson onto the field, who booted a 35-yard field goal with 7:52 left in the game.
There was still one last gasp for the Falcons. With 2:59 left, quarterback Francisco Mauigoa connected with running back Isaiah Handy for a 30-yard touchdown. After the PAT was successful and with only one timeout left, Brusig didn’t have much of a choice but to try for an onside kick. Clayton Valley’s Tanner Maltbie recovered, the Ugly Eagles converted a first down and ran out the clock.
“When I saw this team my big fear was their defense,” Murphy said. “I was really worried about their defensive line. But the offensive line hung in there. And I thought we might be able to wear them down in the second half.”
GAME MVP: Dylan Seeley (Clayton Valley)
In a game in which the Aquinas offense only had 156 yards (with most of that coming later in the fourth quarter), we pretty much had to go for one of the Ugly Eagles’ top defenders. Seeley, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior, not only led that defense in tackles with four (three solo), but he also had one of its two interceptions (Ray Jackson had the other). The 156 yards allowed ranks as the fourth lowest in any CIF state final. The record of 51 was set in 2015 by the Mission Viejo defense in a win over Bellarmine of San Jose. Jake Kern was credited with 16 completions in 20 attempts and played a great game, but a lot of those completions were on forward pitches or shovel passes. Christoffersen led everyone on the night with 119 all-purpose yards.
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