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The Age of Excellence: The greatest season?

2005’s big story: Foothill League Football

Posted: December 24, 2009 6:33 p.m.
Updated: December 25, 2009 4:30 a.m.

J.J. DiLuigi hugs his father, John, after Canyon wins the CIF-SS Div. II title at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

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Given football’s legendary history in the Santa Clarita Valley, it takes a lot for a single season to stand out above the rest.

But whether looking at numbers, records, championships or significance, there is a year that arguably rises to the top.

The year 2005 saw a level of excellence that might be unrivaled thanks to dominant individual and team performances that were felt state-wide.

“That year, I think the Foothill League was at it’s pinnacle,” says Valencia graduate and current Cal running back Shane Vereen.

“The competition was at its best. ... I remember expecting that every team we were going to play was going to put up a great challenge and be a great game.”

Says former Canyon head coach Harry Welch: “In fact, that year you had three teams who were literally getting national attention. It just wasn’t the Cowboys, it wasn’t just the Hart Indians, it wasn’t just (Michael) Herrick and Valencia. We had three teams getting so much attention and all were playing so well.”

Vereen was a junior that year, and on Nov. 11, he saw his teammate Michael Herrick set the California state record for passing yards in a career with a 34-7 victory over Saugus that pushed his career total to 10,003.

The honor is not lost on Herrick to this day, who recalls the great weight that was lifted off his back when he finally moved to the top of the list.

“At the time, I knew it was something that a lot of people were talking about,” he says. “As great as that was, we were on our way to the playoffs and I wanted to get it out of way. It was something that capped off a great career that I had and an overall fun time in high school.”

He finished his career with 11,022 yards.

No. 2 is current Notre Dame University quarterback Jimmy Clausen with 10,677 while at Oaks Christian.

“It shows our valley’s greatness at the quarterback spot,” says former Canyon running back J.J. DiLuigi. “We had great quarterbacks. (Herrick) was the last of the greats up to now. What he did with passing yards was a phenomenal achievement.”

DiLuigi broke the SCV’s single-season touchdown record by scoring 43, which was held by former Hart running back Ted Iacenda.

That year was the arrival of the 5-foot-9-inch bulldozer.

DiLuigi broke nearly every Canyon rushing record that year and was also a symbol of the Cowboys’ rebirth.

After a steady climb back from mediocrity, the Cowboys won their first-ever Foothill League title and first league crown since a Golden League title in 1989. Greater things would follow for the Cowboys after the league title.

DiLuigi finished with 82 touchdowns on his career, the same total as former Hart running back Delano Howell, who debuted with the Indians varsity in 2005.

DiLuigi is now at Brigham Young University, while Howell is a safety at Stanford.

And they aren’t the only players to play Division I.

Saugus lineman Ramsen Golphasin is at Oregon, Canyon lineman A.J Wallerstein is at Air Force, Vereen plays for Cal, Hart quarterback Tyler Lyon attends the University of Arizona and Herrick originally played at Ole Miss before transferring to Northern Arizona University.

But the season was arguably defined by the postseason run of the Cowboys, Indians and Vikings.

Forgotten, though, is during that season, Saugus made the playoffs despite a 4-6 record.

Also in 2005, two future Centurion starts, Desi Rodriguez and Ryan Zirbel (who would go on to lead Saugus to its first-ever Foothill title in 2008 and break nearly every Saugus offensive record) were freshmen.

Both were brought up for the playoffs.

Saugus was clobbered, though, 56-0 in the first round by Mission Viejo.

The remaining three Foothill teams advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division II semifinals.

Hart matched up with Mission Viejo, which was ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today, and Canyon was pitted against Valencia.

“It’s already huge when you play in the regular season, but when you play a rival in the playoffs, the hype, the expectation, everything else just gets taken up a notch,” Vereen recalls.

Amassing three touchdowns in the game, DiLuigi surpassed Iacenda.

Combined with the efforts of Canyon quarterback Austin Civita, the Cowboys routed Valencia 42-13.

On the other side of the bracket, the Indians put forth what Hart head coach Mike Herrington told his players was “the best effort in Hart football history.”

Lyon excelled, throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns to lead his team over the heavily favored Diablos 24-12.

The final was set.

The Signal dubbed the Dec. 9, 2005,  CIF-Southern Section Division II championship game “the biggest game in the history of the Santa Clarita Valley.”

The two teams’ last meeting had ended with a 16-14 Canyon victory, giving the program the Foothill title.

There is no question that the title game lived up to the hype.

Canyon took over late.

Already up 14-13 in the fourth quarter, Civita gave the Cowboys a 21-13 lead after throwing a 4-yard touchdown to wide receiver Chris Kingsbury with 3:30 to play in the game.

But Hart wasn’t done.

The Indians drove the length of the field with a little more than two minutes to play.

Facing a fourth-and-10 from the 11 yard line with less than 20 seconds to play, Lyon found receiver Troy Yudin near the goal line, but DiLuigi, playing defensive back, stopped him at the 1-yard line, securing the victory.

“It was an outstanding play by them,” recalls Herrington. “We tried to make a big play there. For us to drive the length of the field and get stopped, it made for a heartbreaking game for us, but one of the chapters in the long rivalry of Hart-Canyon.”

Canyon had earned its first CIF championship since 1985.

Welch was named the California State Coach of the Year by CalHiSports.

DiLuigi and Civita shared the All-CIF-Southern Section Division II Offensive Players of the Year, while linebacker Matt Brown and defensive end Garrett Leary were co-Defensive Players of the Year.

In total, 22 players from the Foothill League earned All-CIF-SS Division II honors in 2005.

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