By Brandon HENSLEY
There were dropped balls and overthrows. There was massive confusion on the offensive line. There was a bad snap on a punt that led to a touchdown for the opposing team.
Good thing all of that happened in the first half of Crescenta Valley High School’s first round playoff game last Friday. The Falcons came out in the second half and showed Harvard-Westlake that it may take time for the Falcons to get going, but they didn’t go undefeated in the regular season for nothing.
The 42-14 blowout win was the Falcons’ 11th straight this season, the 12th straight dating back to last season, and with Brian Gadsby as quarterback the team is 21-2 since he took over late in the 2012 campaign.
Crescenta Valley is on to the second round, when it will face the Paramount Pirates at Paramount High School. The Pirates (7-4, 3-2 in the San Gabriel Valley League) won a last-minute thriller against Norwalk in the first round. They escaped 18-14 after trailing 14-3 late in the fourth quarter.
“They’re really athletic,” said Falcons Coach Paul Schilling. “They play in a different style league that’s a little more smash-mouth.”
Schilling said Paramount reminded him of a familiar foe in the Pacific League.
“We’ll have to defend them like we do Muir, where a couple of guys at any moment can break a long one,” he said. “They’re explosive that way.”
The Falcons’ offense is also explosive, but it was slow going in the first half against Harvard-Westlake. Chase Walker dropped a third-down throw that would have moved the chains. Gadsby overthrew Jonathan Jun on a screen pass that would have gained substantial yardage. Harvard-Westlake’s defensive linemen were never set, instead choosing to dance on the line before the ball was snapped. This seemed to throw off Gadsby’s protection. He was hurried several times and sacked twice.
“That was our biggest fear,” Schilling said. “They were really aggressive … we don’t give up a lot of sacks, but they got to us two times, which is a lot for us.”
The first score of the game actually came on a trick play in the second quarter, a fumblerooski, when Falcons lineman BK Kim hid the ball while the defense chased Falcons running the other way. Kim ran 17 yards untouched for the score.
A botched punt led to the only Wolverine touchdown of the half, and frustration set in again, but Connor Van Ginkel’s nine-yard TD catch put CV up 14-7 going into the half.
Falcons’ fans may have wondered what was going on, but Schilling said he thought the game would be a low-scoring contest anyway, and he knew that at any point his offense would come to life.
“It’s been like that all year. Our team is good defensively and explosive on offense,” he said. “So we’re able to kind of hold, hold, hold and we’ll not look too good on offense, and then at any given moment we’ll score 28 points in five minutes. That’s happened in quite a few games.”
It happened again this time. On consecutive possessions to start the half, the Wolverines threw interceptions, one to Jordan LoBianco and one to Bostin Lakin. The Falcons used that good field position to score quick touchdowns both times. The second one was a 39-yard bomb from Gadsby to Van Ginkel.
Schilling noted how the defense, including the versatile LoBianco, helped in those situations.
“He’s definitely one of if not the best player in our league,” Schilling said of LoBianco, who has not only three interceptions for touchdowns, but also three punt returns for touchdowns. “He scores in so many different ways. He’s awesome.”
By the time Gadsby ran in a short-yardage score in the fourth quarter and chest-bumped Walker and Van Ginkel, all the frustration from earlier had dissipated. It was another blowout win for CV.
“I’ve been telling everybody, they haven’t had a lot of big-time games with football experience, but these kids have been multiple sports together since they were little,” Schilling said of his players. “They’re pretty calm.”
This is as far as the Falcons have been in CIF since 2001, when assistant coach Hudson Gossard was quarterback. That team also won 11 games. The next round is the semifinals, and CV hasn’t been there since 1992. And, in the program’s history, only two CV teams have won 12 games – the 1973 team, which won CIF, and the 1976 edition.
It’s going to get interesting around the foothills if both Crescenta Valley and St. Francis win their playoff games on Friday. If both teams advance, they’ll play each other in the CIF semifinals of the Southeastern Division.
St. Francis plays La Serna on Friday. No matter who wins that game, if the Falcons beat Paramount, they will host the semifinal game at Glendale High School.
This time of the year is also always reserved for celebrating the start of basketball season at CV, as fans and alumni pack the gym for the annual alumni game the day before Thanksgiving. This year, it could mean something else. It could mean football fever stepping on basketball tradition.