By CHACE BRYSON | Editor
Brian Hamilton’s demeanor did not match the situation.
His Concord High football team was playing its biggest game of the season to date “” against its most hated rival, Clayton Valley Charter “” and it trailed 21-0 after barely more than 12 minutes of action. Most coaches would be manic in such a moment, storming up and down the sidelines trying to get his team right.
Hamilton showed calm. And in turn, many of the Minutemen players did too.
Concord scored on its next possession.
“It’s a tough bunch of kids,” Hamilton said of his 32-man roster. “Watching tape, a lot of teams get down 21 to these guys and they kind of turn it in. That’s not who we are.”
But Clayton Valley Charter kept throwing punches. The Eagles, behind a relentless rushing attack led by senior Miles Harrison, kept piling on. Harrison scored on a 65-yard run on the first play following Concord’s first touchdown. And after a 30-yard scoring run by Devin Banks, Clayton Valley led 34-8 wit 5:58 left in the first half.
But anyone who may have declared Concord down and out, didn’t know Concord and hadn’t watched enough of this rivalry. The battle for the Claycord Cup has turned into one of the most heated and competitive rivalries in the East Bay, and the 2014 version was every bit the proof.
Concord scored for the second time on the last play of the half and went into the break trailing 34-14.
Harrison spent his halftime reminding his teammates that they hadn’t won anything yet.
“I grew up with all these guys,” the Eagles running back said. “They know how to compete and I knew it wasn’t over. That’s why I told our team at halftime that it was 0-0.”
Concord scored on its first possession of the second half, and to the surprise of few, turned the game into the battle of undefeated Diablo Valley Athletic League teams that everyone had expected. Malik Blackburn’s 40-yard touchdown run with 4:14 left in the game brought Concord within eight points (48-40). And when Concord got the ball back with 1:17 left in the game, it was instant deja vu for Clayton Valley “” which surrendered a last-minute scoring drive in the 2013 Claycord game before winning 49-48 when Concord failed to score the game-winning 2-point conversion.
“I was definitely having flashbacks,” Clayton Valley Richard Peralta said. “Is this really going to happen again?”
It might have, if not for Peralta.
The Minutemen drove the ball all the way to the Clayton Valley 3-yard line with under 15 seconds left. On second down, quarterback Mitch Daniels had an open receiver on a quick out when Peralta got his hand on the pass and it deflected high into the air before falling into the hands of fellow Eagles linebacker Elijah Breon. The play would seal a 48-40 Clayton Valley win.
Afterward, Clayton Valley coach Tim Murphy was asked if it was the type of game he expected.
“No,” he said emphatically. “I really don’t expect it. I expect it to be cleaner overall and our guys to step up more. But (Concord) wants to win that Cup back, and they really step up when they play us. It makes it fun, and these are the ones the kids are going to remember.”
It was a pinnacle night in what had already been an outstanding season for Harrison. Despite the fact that a bone bruise on his left foot had kept him out of practice all week, Harrison took the game-opening kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown. The fact that Concord, which typically plays for onside and pooch kicks, kicked it deep to Harrison to open the game was a surprise in itself.
“I was thinking that they’re probably going to kick it to me because they think I’m injured,” Harrison said with a laugh. “They’re going to try and see if I can play, and I figured I had to prove a point and go score.”
He proved it, and then some. Harrison scored touchdowns on three of his first six carries and finished the game with 33 carries, 337 yards and five touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Concord’s up-tempo offense featured a number of standouts. Daniels completed 31 of 51 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns. Senior receiver Mason Knight caught 11 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns, and Blackburn rushed for 156 yards and three touchdown and added eight catches for 102 yards.
“Offensively, that was definitely the best team we’ve played,” Murphy said. “Those three kids are amazing.”
Both teams will be heavy favorites in their final two DVAL games and are all but certain to be on a collision course in the North Coast Section Division II playoffs “” where the championship might very well determine a California Interscholastic Federation Northern Regional bowl berth.
Hamilton believes it’s an inevitability and can’t wait for it.
“Cancel the rest of the playoffs,” he joked. “Make us the 1 and 2 seed and let’s get down.”
Murphy is just as prepared.
“If you look in the NCS right now, I would say that most have us ranked as the top two teams in the division,” the Clayton Valley coach said. “We’ll see ’em again. They’ll have the same fire, and we’ll have to come out with the same fire. It’ll be fun.”
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