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Finally!

Saugus claims at least a share of its first-ever Foothill League title

Posted: November 7, 2008 10:39 p.m.
Updated: November 8, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Saugus' Ryan Zirbel (5) catches a pass from Desi Rodriguez in the first half of their matchup with Valencia on Friday at Valencia High.

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The Valencia High public address announcer gave it his best.

Every free chance he stumbled onto, from the first quarter through the fourth, he reminded the crowd to stay off the field for the conclusion of Friday's showdown between Valencia and Saugus.

He had to know it wasn't going to work.

The Centurion fans never had an opportunity to celebrate a Foothill League championship before. There was no keeping them from exploding, blue-and-white colored streamers spraying all over the field behind them, after a 31-24 crown-clinching victory over the Vikings.

"No one can ever take this from us," said Saugus quarterback Desi Rodriguez. "We dreamed it and we believed that we could do it."

With the win in a battle of two previously unbeatens, Saugus clinches at minimum a share of the championship, Should the Centurions falter next week against Canyon and Valencia prevail against West Ranch, Saugus would still own the top seed.

Rodriguez and his tailback Ryan Zirbel, the key pieces in a Saugus team that fell three points shy of a Foothill League title a year ago, losing a title-game showdown against Hart, led Saugus there.

Especially in the first half.

Rodriguez ran for two touchdowns, threw for another and racked up 145 rushing yards and 124 passing yards - and that was just the first two quarters - leading Saugus (6-3, 4-0) to a commanding start.

Zirbel caught a touchdown pass and ran for another.

It was enough to counter a strong comeback from the Vikings (7-2, 3-1) in the fourth quarter as the Cents built a 28-10 halftime lead.

"We did a lot of great things in the first half," Rodriguez said. "Their defense wasn't anything we had never seen before."

His tailback struck first.

On a fourth-and-1 play on the Valencia 2-yard line, Zirbel plunged across the goal line to finish off a 12-play drive.

Saugus started by grinding it out. After Valencia's Jordan Thompson matched with a 14-yard score with eight minutes left in the half, the fireworks started.

First came a 28-yard scoring run from Rodriguez just four plays later. Then, after a Valencia field goal, came a Rodriguez 79-yard touchdown run and a 45-yard scoring pass to Zirbel in the final two minutes, the pass coming in the final 20 seconds.

A pin drop could be heard in the Valencia crowd.

"This was a team of destiny," said Saugus head coach Jason Bornn. "We believed that we could get to this point, every one of us."

Valencia, though, made things interesting.

Rodriguez was held to just 38 rushing yards in the second half. After a 30-yard field goal by Manny Padron on the Centurions' opening drive of the third quarter, Saugus didn't score again.

The Vikings, winners of seven straight coming in, played like it.

"They're soliders just like us," Bornn said. "Give them a lot of credit. They made every adjustment that they had to make."

In the final seven minutes of the game, as Saugus' offense went conservative, Valencia's offense made its push. It started with a 1-yard scoring sneak from Viking quarterback Dominick Solley.

The Saugus lead was cut to 31-17.

After a Centurion three-and-out with four minutes to go, Solley went back to work. The senior, who completed 11-of-21 passes for 187 yards, turned his attention to Daniel Johnson.

Johnson, who didn't have a catch prior to the drive, caught four consecutive passes for 61 yards, capping it with an 8-yard, fourth-down touchdown reception with 2:37 remaining in the contest.

The Vikings, though, never got the ball back.

An ensuing onside kick attempt failed, and Saugus is now a win over Canyon away from its first-ever outright championship.

"Until we play Canyon I won't celebrate," Bornn said. "This isn't what we set out to do. We set out to be outright champions."

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