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By Steve Breazeale
The Saddleback Valley Christian football team was awarded the CIF-SS East Valley Division Championship one week ago due to a forfeit by their opponent. The Warriors were denied a chance to play in what was, at the time, the biggest game of the season.
On Dec. 12, the Warriors more than made up for lost time.
SVC defeated visiting Kennedy of Delano in the CIF Division 5A South Regional semifinals 59-45, punching their ticket to to the CIF State Championship next week.
The Warriors will host St. Bernard’s in the Division 5A State title game on Dec. 19 at Laguna Hills High School at 6 p.m.
The Warriors scored 14 unanswered points in the final seven minutes of play to hold off a charging Thunderbirds squad.
Kennedy made a move midway through the fourth quarter, intercepting SVC quarterback Cade Henjum for the third time and turning the turnover into points following a 10-yard touchdown run by Rafael Martinez. Martinez’s third and final touchdown run brought things even at 45-45.
A 56-yard hookup between Henjum and senior David Molina pushed the Warriors downfield in a hurry on their next possession. Molina capped off the scoring drive six plays later with a one-yard touchdown run, giving SVC a 52-45 lead.
The Warriors defense came up with its biggest stop of the night on Kennedy’s next possession, forcing a turnover on downs which gave the home team the ball at Kennedy’s 28-yard line. Molina punctuated the victory with a 19-yard scoring burst to ice the game.
The Warriors have been dealing with injuries throughout their playoff run and that trend continued Saturday night. SVC’s standout running back Dalton Lohman went down with a leg injury on the Warriors first series and never returned to action. Henjum, who did not start SVC’s CIF-SS semifinal matchup against Crean Lutheran, was still nursing a leg injury but completed 22 of 37 passes for 373 yards and four touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Warriors erased Kennedy’s 23-21 advantage at the half early in the third behind stellar efforts from unlikely contributors. Freshman tailback Isaac Moreno and Ryan De Viso, who combined for only two touches in the opening 24 minutes, caught fire in the third quarter. De Viso and Moreno led the Warriors downfield on back to back drives and both scored touchdowns to increase SVC’s lead to 35-28.
“We faced some adversity early, we were a little banged up … we had to face adversity and I challenged those guys at halftime,” SVC head coach Brendan Chambers said. “We’ve done this all season long and some young guys stepped up and played really well.”
Moreno led the team with 18 carries for 100 rushing yards. De Viso chipped in 31 yards and a score on five carries.
SVC receiver Savai’i Cravens pushed the lead to 45-30 on an spectacular 32-yard catch and run touchdown that saw him break two tackles and toe the sideline all the way to the end zone. Cravens led all receivers with nine catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
SVC had no answer for Kennedy running back David Zepeda, who had a game-high 248 rushing yards and a touchdown on 38 carries.