Riding its power run game, along with a stifling defense, Clayton Valley eyes state redemption
By CHACE BRYSON | Editor
It was a textbook drive for the Clayton Valley Charter High football team.
The Ugly Eagles used 14 plays to go 80 yards and used more than six minutes of the fourth quarter of their Oct. 2 showdown against visiting Monte Vista-Danville. They converted on two fourth downs, including the touchdown play — a 1-yard dive by Luis Ramos on 4th-and-goal. That score completed the Eagles comeback from a 17-7 first-half deficit.
But it didn’t win the game.
The game-winning plays happened in succession on Monte Vista’s ensuing drive. Mustangs quarterback Jake Haener had led his team to the Clayton Valley 37-yard line with a little more than three minutes to play. That’s when the barrage came. The Eagles posted three consecutive sacks by three different players. The plays resulted in minus-30 yards and effectively crushed Monte Vista’s spirit in the process.
“We haven’t had that since I’ve been here,” fourth-year Clayton Valley coach Tim Murphy said the Monday following the 21-17 win. “We had a good defensive line last year, but they didn’t get the kind of consistent pressure (on the quarterback) that we’ve been able to get this year. … These kids being experienced and talented, we’re able to do a lot more with these guys. They want to get to the ball. They have that motor.”
The three sacks came from defensive linemen Jeffery Williams, Bryce Brand and Heikoti Vaisima — all of whom are juniors.
“We knew they were going to have to pass and we figured we’d have a better chance at getting to the quarterback,” Vaisima said of Monte Vista’s final possession. “We told our linebackers and defensive backs that if they just covered the routes, we’s be able to get to them.”
This wasn’t the first time that the Eagles defense has shined in 2015. After a 27-26 loss at state-ranked Folsom in both teams’ season-opener, Clayton Valley has allowed just 30 points over four games. That includes back-to-back shutouts of Tracy and Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa, the latter of which has scored 35 points or more in each of its other four games.
That the defense has performed this well despite losing nationally-recruited lineman Jalen McKenzie to a knee injury in the first quarter of the Folsom game, is even more impressive.
“When he went down it was sort of a heartbreaker to everybody,” Murphy said. “But I think it kind of rallied our team up and made the kids realize what they have in front of them. Not only did it get everyone fired up, but it showed how much character our team has and how much it cared.”
The defense has answered the bell, obviously, but so has an offense that graduated or lost nearly every starter from the 2014 team that fell just yards shy of winning the California Interscholastic Federation Division II State Bowl Championship. Star running back Miles Harrison (2,709 yards and 34 TDs) graduated along with the entire offensive line. Quarterback Nate Keisel (a school-record 21 touchdown passes in 2014) was slated to return before his family moved to Utah.
Ramos, who was expected to play running back and linebacker for the Eagles, moved behind center and has done an exceptional job of running the run-dominated attack. After missing his junior season following a transfer from College Park-Pleasant Hill, Ray Jackson III has taken over as the team’s new bell cow at running back. He rushed for 199 yards in the win over Monte Vista and pushed his season total to 986 yards on 106 carries.
Maybe the most important play of the go-ahead scoring drive against the Mustangs was the team’s lone pass play. Facing a 4th-and-3 near midfield, Ramos hit senior Robert Carson for an 8-yard gain.
“You just know that you’ve got to make that play, otherwise they’re not going to call it again,” Carson said. “We work on it all the time in practice though. Even though we don’t run it all the time in the games, we know that we’re ready and capable of doing it when we need to.”
And that was probably the biggest thing gained by Clayton Valley that early October evening. For the second time this season — and quite possibly the last time before the postseason begins in mid-November — the Ugly Eagles faced adversity in all phases of the game. Each unit made plays and proved it was capable of executing when it mattered.
All of which should make the rest of Division II very nervous.
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