Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
The Terra Nova defense wraps up a Valley Christian runner during the Tigers’ 26-7 loss to the Warriors in the first round of the CCS Open Division playoffs.
The Terra Nova football team went 10-0 during the regular season, captured its fifth-straight Peninsula Athletic League title and earned the top seed in the Central Coast Section Open Division tournament.
As coach Bill Gray told his players, this was the best football team Terra Nova had ever put on the field.
And what did the Tigers get for all their accomplishments? Another beat down by a West Catholic Athletic League team in the first round of the playoffs.
For the third year in a row, the Tigers were eliminated by a team from the strongest league in the section. This time it was Valley Christian that did the honors, shutting down the Terra Nova offense and wearing the Tigers down defensively for a 26-7 victory.
Seeded No. 1, No. 8 or anywhere between, the Tigers — and to a greater extent, the PAL — just do not have the firepower to compete in the Open Division against WCAL schools. The Tigers were held to season-low totals across the board offensively. The seven points scored were a season low — they averaged 45 in their previous 10 games. They were limited to 151 yards of total offense — they averaged 501. Quarterback Anthony Gordon was held to just 147 yards passing — he came into the game averaging 337.
“Give Valley Christian credit,” Gray said. “Their offensive front and defensive front were unlike anything we’ve seen all season long.”
Conversely, Valley Christian racked up 430 yards of offense, 391 of which came on the ground — and the Warriors did it without the services of their best running back, Kirk Johnson, who sat out with an injury.
No matter. Mark Quinby picked up the slack by rumbling for 168 yards on 24 carries. Tre McCloud also had a big game. He scored all three of Valley Christian’s touchdowns and finished with 87 yards on 25 carries.
Gray wasn’t surprised by their production. What caught him and the Tigers off guard was the play of the Warriors’ two fullbacks: Jesse Osuna and Travis Tuitele, who combined for 135 yards on 11 carries.
“Running the fullback, they haven’t done that,” Gray said. “They were smart with their play calls.”
Terra Nova hung with Valley Christian for a half. It was a defensive, field-position battle in the first two quarters as neither team could muster much early in the game. The Tigers went on a lengthy drive midway through the opening quarter, but they turned the ball over on downs at the Valley Christian 30.
The Tigers’ defense, which was solid for a majority of the game, forced the Warriors to punt on their ensuing drive and Terra Nova finally found the lightning strike that had been the Tigers calling card all season. On second-and-5 from his own 46, Gordon dropped back and found Jaylend Jones breaking open downfield. Jones ran away from the defense, made the over-the-shoulder catch and sped into the end zone for a 54-yard score and a 7-0 Terra Nova lead with 2:51 to play in the first quarter.
That appeared to wake up the Valley Christian offense as it proceeded to drive from its own 20 to the Tigers’ 22 before fumbling the ball away.
Terra Nova could do nothing with it and after a punt, the Tigers defense forced the Warriors to line up for their third punt of the half.
What happened next should have been an omen for Terra Nova. Nick Pierotti came off the left end and smothered the punt off the punter’s foot. The ball hit the ground and bounced right back up into the punter’s hands — who happened to be Quinby — who then motored 28 yards for the first down to keep the drive alive.
“Maybe if we recover that ball, maybe we go in and score and it might be different,” Gray said.
Instead, the Warriors continued their march. They eventually had first-and-goal and the Terra Nova 5. After being stuffed on three plays, the Warriors faced fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with four seconds left in the half.
Terra Nova couldn’t make a fourth stop and McCloud barely broke the plane to tie the score at 7 at halftime to cap a 72-yard, 14-play, 7-minute, 35-second drive.
Valley Christian took the second-half kickoff and methodically drove 79 yards on 11 plays. McCloud barreled in from a yard out again to the Warriors a 14-7 lead and one could sense the momentum shift.
The Warriors then turned it up a notch defensively. Terra Nova ran just 10 plays in the second half — one of which was a one-play drive that ended with Valley Christian recording a safety.
Terra Nova’s best scoring chance in the second half came on its first drive of the third quarter, as the Tigers moved from their own 26 to the Valley Christian 20. An illegal-man-downfield penalty cost the Tigers five yards and then back-to-back sacks forced them to punt.
That would be as close as the Tigers would get to the end zone in the second half.
The Warriors, meanwhile, slowly but surely started to wear down the Terra Nova defense. Of their 430 yards, 263 came in the third and fourth quarters as the Warriors ran 35 plays in the second half.
“We were concerned they might be able to do that,” Gray said.
Even when the Tigers had the Warriors in a third-and-long situation, more often than not, they picked up the first down. Valley Christian completed only three passes, but all three of them came on third downs and all three resulted in a fresh set of downs.
“Our goal was to create third and long and they threw the ball better and more efficiently than they had all year,” Gray said.
Valley Christian tacked on a 30-yard field on its second drive of the second half and McCloud scored his third touchdown of the game on the Warriors’ third drive. The safety with 6:31 left to play was the final nail in the coffin for the Terra Nova 2013 football season.
“You saw [their] size make a difference as the game went along,” Gray said. “It’s an athletic mismatch.”