In A Season Riddled With Uncertainties, The Ugly Eagles Made The Most Of A Chance To Play A Meaningful Game •
Clayton Valley football coach Tim Murphy has won several league championships over his long high school career.
But none hit quite like the East Bay Athletic League-Mountain Division title the Ugly Eagles earned with their 17-14 win at San Ramon Valley on Saturday night. The two teams entered the title clash ranked No. 9 and No. 10, respectively, in SportStars’ NorCal Top 20 Rankings for Week 5.
“It’s definitely different,” Murphy said grinning. “This is just a really good group. They practiced on their own during COVID. They had a stronger belief that this season was going to happen than me. And I really went as far as I can go. … But they just kept the faith.”
Keeping the faith has sort of been a team mantra even after this spring season started. Because every one of the Ugly Eagles’ games has been a grind. Saturday’s league title tilt in Danville was no different.
San Ramon Valley took the game-opening kickoff and marched 84 yards on 15 plays, scoring on a 9-yard run by junior quarterback Jack Quigley for a 7-0 lead. Clayton Valley then got the ball and managed just one yard on three plays before punting.
“We make adjustments,” Clayton Valley senior quarterback Jake Kern (pictured at top) said. “We go to the sidelines and watch the film, and a big part of our game plan is making adjustments. We’re a tactical team and rely a lot on technique. It’s all about finding out who to block, making adjustments and sticking to our reads.”
The Ugly Eagles put together their own marathon scoring drive on their second possessions. Omari Taylor rushed for 38 of his game-high 97 rushing yards during a 13-play, 80-yard drive that Andrew Woolard Jr. capped with a 15-yard scoring run that tied the game.
“There was a lot of uncertainty that lasted for a long time,” Woolard said about the wait for a season. “To finally come out and get to play for something, that felt great for everybody. That’s what we’ve been waiting for.”
The defense made adjustments, too. After allowing eight first downs to the Wolves during the first quarter, the Clayton Valley defense surrendered just one in the second quarter.
Kern and the Ugly Eagles offense began its third possession of the game on its own 23-yard line with just 59.1 seconds left in the half. The quarterback went 4-for-6 passing on the drive and got his team to the San Ramon Valley 24-yard line with 5.2 remaining.
Murphy then turned to his kicker. Literally.
“I turned and yelled down the sideline to Shane (Nelson), ‘Can you make it?'” Murphy said. “I don’t even think he knew where we were on the field when he said ‘Yes.'”
Nelson, who drilled the game-winning field goal in Clayton Valley’s 2019 CIF State Bowl championship win, wasn’t lying. He delivered on a 41-yard field goal from the left hash as time expired for a 10-7 halftime lead.
Clayton Valley never trailed again. The Ugly Eagles took the opening kick of the second half and scored in nine plays. It was Woolard again, this time catching a 14-yard scoring pass from junior quarterback Brenden Bush. Bush and Kern alternate series.
San Ramon Valley pulled back within three points on a 1-yard QB sneak from Quigley with 10:53 left in the game. The Wolves would get the ball back two more times trailing just 17-14, but weren’t able to threaten. Sacks by Jared Palega and Ethan Byrne-Escobar helped derail San Ramon Valley’s last two possessions.
“I love my defense,” Kern said. “They grind it out, and they had our back for sure. They’ve had our back more than once this year.”
Though they’ve won four of their first five games, the Ugly Eagles have yet to score more than 21 points in a game this season. It might stay that way, too, considering they close out this short spring campaign with NorCal No. 1 De La Salle-Concord on April 17.
But the important part is over. The season that nearly never was ended up being a championship season after all.
“When I didn’t think we we were going to have a season, it hurt,” Kern said. “Your senior year is just different. To get this season, and to be with my fellow seniors, makes up for it a lot. Nothing will replace what we missed, but tonight makes it a little sweeter for sure.”