By Brandon HENSLEY
Last year, the Falcons did almost everything right on their way to an 8-2 season, but they still missed the playoffs. This year, the Crescenta Valley High School football team cut out the “almost” part on its way to a perfect 10-0 season after demolishing rival Arcadia 61-30 on Nov. 7. With the win, CV won its first Pacific League championship since 2004, its first outright title since 2001.
It was a typical takedown of an opponent by the Falcons, the way it has been for two seasons. The offense was rolling as quarterback Brian Gadsby threw for six scores, including the first of the year to Matt Erickson, a regular defensive stud. Running back Jonathan Jun gained over 100 yards, giving him over 1,000 yards for the season.
The second team defense gave up some points, but the starting unit was its usual dominant self. It racked up seven sacks, including 2.5 from Davo Hakobyan and two from Erickson.
The Falcons have an 11-game winning streak dating back to last season, and are 18-2 since start of last year. But they haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, where a 6-4 season gave way to a first-round loss at La Mirada.
The CIF playoffs begin for the Southeast Division on Friday. The Falcons will host the Harvard-Westlake Wolverines at Glendale High School at 7:30 p.m. The Wolverines (7-3, 3-2 in league) were third in the Angelus League. That league includes St. Francis, which went 10-0 and also plays in the Southeast Division.
“Let’s do our best to get in to the playoffs and show these guys who we really are,” Erickson said about the team’s mindset. “That’s what we’re going for. We’re trying to show that we can compete with the top teams up there.”
Gadsby said in August he wanted to “leave no doubt” this season after his team was not selected as an at-large bid in the Southeast Conference last year.
Behind Gadsby’s 2,700 yards passing and 33 touchdowns, the Falcons achieved just that. Their passing attack was terrifying for opponents all season. Chase Walker caught 10 touchdowns and averaged 20 yards a reception. Connor Van Ginkel, who was injured half of his junior year but fully healthy for this one, also scored 10 times and came up just shy of 1,000 receiving yards.
The impact of Jonathan Jun could not be overstated. His ability to catch balls out of the back field, combined with his excellence as a runner, enabled the offense to be more dimensional. Jun scored 13 touchdowns and averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
Jordan LoBianco sparked the special teams and defensive units with his great return capability and solid coverage on opposing receivers. Tyler Hill, Sean Bloks and Ryan Cancelosi all helped form a much-improved defense. Erickson was simply all over the field this season, knocking lineman out of the way and deflecting passes or bringing down the quarterback.
“We had a lot of juniors last year and now they’re seniors,” LoBianco said. “We had a whole year to play together last year and now we’re clicking.”
The biggest win of the year came on Oct. 24 at Muir High School. The Mustangs were the reigning league champs, and the Falcons hadn’t won at Muir since 2004. It turned into a physical, sometimes dirty, affair, but Crescenta Valley escaped with a 38-26 win.
“It was such a big game for all of us,” Erickson said. “Winning that game was amazing because we pulled through and beat the other undefeated team.”
“We knew Burbank and Muir were going to be our only competition,” LoBianco said, “and Burbank lost their running back (James Williams to injury) and we were like, ‘Oh, wow, now we can definitely beat these guys.’ Muir isn’t as good as they were last year. We were better because we returned a lot of guys.”
The road in CIF will be tough, starting with the Wolverines, but players like Gadsby, Walker, Erickson, Hakobyan and Van Ginkel will all graduate in June, so this is really now or never for the Falcons.
Who: Harvard-Westlake Wolverines
When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Glendale H.S.