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CIF football playoffs: Facing the curse

Valencia tries to end its semifinal losing streak tonight against Palos Verdes

Posted: November 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Valencia running back Stone Jackson (36) straigh-arms Paso Robles defender Josh Hayley on Nov. 9 at Valencia High School.

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For the entire season, even before the season began, Valencia’s wide receiving corps and skill position players in general have been held in high regard.

Valencia head coach Larry Muir was extremely complimentary of Palos Verdes’ defense.

So it looks like this one is strength against strength.

Valencia football hosts Palos Verdes tonight at 7 p.m. in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division semifinals.

The winner gets to face the winner of the West Torrance-Atascadero matchup in the championship game on Dec. 1.

It goes without saying that this is a familiar position for the Foothill League champion Vikings (9-3), who lost in semifinal games in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

“Everybody’s been telling me that we kind of have a curse getting to the semifinals and always losing. But this year we all want to prove ourselves and make the statement that Valencia can be the best,” said Vikings slot receiver Malik Townsend.

That “curse” talk obviously dies with a win.

With a win, the Vikings will make their first appearance in a CIF title game since the Division II championship 49-21 loss to a Mark Sanchez-led Mission Viejo in 2004.

But Valencia has its work cut out for it.

The Sea Kings started the season at 0-3, but have won nine straight contests to move to 9-3.

Eight straight games haven’t been close, including last Friday’s 49-28 win over Hart in which Palos Verdes was efficient on offense, explosive on special teams and rock solid on defense.

In the game, the Bay League champions jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the second quarter.

“I was worried for Hart because I knew the year before Hart beat Palos Verdes (and knocked it out of the playoffs),” said Valencia head coach Larry Muir. “I remember we got beat by Moorpark (in the playoffs) two years in a row (to end our season). After that it was like, ‘Let’s go get these guys.’”

That familiarity is not there between Valencia and P.V.

In fact, the two programs have never met on the football field.

Muir said the Sea Kings are balanced on offense and is impressed by the play and poise of senior quarterback Bryan Scott, who through the team’s first 11 games had 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

Running back Matt Lopes was P.V’s main weapon against Hart last week, as he ran for 196 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.

The team’s top receiver, 6-foot-3-inch Dean Alessi, was another player Muir noted that his team has to be aware of.

The Vikings defense has a much bigger test than last week, when Valencia defeated Quartz Hill 42-7.

Quartz Hill was one-dimensional, relying heavily on running back Osirius Burke, who ran for 175 yards on 23 carries against the Vikings.

To Valencia’s credit, it didn’t allow Burke to take over the game, as 109 of those yards were in the second quarter.

The Vikings will be challenged on defense.

The 28 points scored by Hart were the most the Sea Kings have allowed since a Sept. 21, 35-34 win over Moorpark.

In between those games, P.V. surrendered a combined 54 points to seven teams.

The Sea Kings pounded West Torrance 47-14 on Oct. 19.

“They stay in their coverage 80 to 85 percent of the time and they run their defense really well,” Muir said. “They’re disciplined. They don’t get out of position. They don’t get rattled. They’re fundamentally sound. They recognize routes very well. They present one of the biggest challenges we’ve had.”

And Valencia’s offense hasn’t been stopped since a 24-14 loss to Loyola on Sept. 28.

The Vikings have won seven straight games and much of the credit belongs to quarterback Sean Murphy, the Valencia offensive line and two receivers in particular — quick and shifty Townsend and big target Nick Jones.

In 2 1/2 quarters of play last week, Murphy passed for 349 yards.

Townsend caught two passes, including one he turned into a 60-yard touchdown, and Jones caught seven, including one he turned into a 96-yard touchdown.

In the end, it could come down to who is the most disciplined team.

Valencia has been an up-and-down team when it comes to penalties. The passing game’s aggressive style means that mistakes can happen.

But the Vikings are hungry for a title shot.

And few gave them a chance to get this far.

“Since the beginning of the year, people were saying we were going to lose to Hart and not have a good season, but we’ve been progressing so much,” said senior linebacker Anthony Costleigh. “I just want to show those people that we are really good.”

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