By MAVERICK FREEDLANDER
The football team got its first taste of the playoffs in 8 years on Friday against the 10-0 Valencia High School (VHS) Tigers.
After its loss to Woodbridge High School just a week before, UHS was predicted to lose the game and to not come close. However, most of the first half the game was a dogfight between two defenses which barely allowed any yards, and the game ultimately ended in a loss of 14-37.
In the first eight possessions of the game, each team punted thrice and turned the ball over to the opponents once. UHS’s defense caught fire early, especially safety Awni Albalas (Sr.), who recorded two early sacks and limited VHS’s running game early on.
For the first 20 minutes of the contest, the score remained 0-0, but with 3:55 left in the first half, VHS managed to put three points on the board in the form of a chip shot field goal.
On the following UHS possession, the UHS offense immediately stalled and was forced to punt. The VHS defense blocked Alex Pourdanesh (So.)’s punt, setting its offense up with great field position at UHS’s 27-yard line with almost three minutes still remaining in the first half.
VHS threw three consecutive passes into the end zone and beat UHS’s secondary for a 27-yard touchdown on the third one. UHS’s offense was forced three and out again on the next possession, and punted. The punt only made it to UHS’s 46-yard line, and VHS was given another opportunity to increase its lead with less than a minute left in the half.
VHS netted a loss of two yards on its first two plays, but on 3rd & 12 on UHS’s 48-yard line, VHS torched UHS’s secondary again for a 48-yard touchdown to increase the score to 0-17 with only 20 seconds remaining in the half.
UHS deferred at the beginning of the game, giving the team the first possession of the second half. On the Trojans’ first drive of the second half, quarterback Neil Boudreau (Sr.) utilized his go-to receiver, tight end Michael Jung (Sr.), to get the offense in striking distance for the running game. Running back Matt Abellaneda (Sr.) punched the ball in for a one-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 10. UHS was now down 7-17.
VHS struck right back. Just 42 seconds after Abellaneda’s touchdown, VHS scored on a 29=yard touchdown run, bringing its lead back to 17, with a score of 7-24.
The Trojans’ next drive produced no points, forcing them to punt. However, on the return, VHS fumbled and UHS was able to fall on the ball and recover it at VHS’s 18-yard line.
After running back Sam Winder (Jr.) brought UHS inside the 10-yard line, Boudreau connected with wide receiver Andre Campbell (Sr.) for a 6-yard touchdown with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
VHS kept its foot on the pedal, dominating the trenches and allowing the offense to record runs of 16, 28 and 8 yards on that drive alone. The 8-yard run resulted in a touchdown for VHS, again increasing its lead to 17. UHS was now down 14-31.
UHS had no response, as the offense was unable to convert a 4th & 25. Some tension started to show when the game seemed out of reach, as Hamza Diab (Sr.) received a personal foul as did a VHS player on the same drive.
UHS’s fate seemed sealed early in the 4th, as the offense simply could not move the ball. On a trick play designed for backup quarterback and starting wide receiver Campbell, UHS was intercepted by a solid VHS defense.
With two minutes to go, VHS scored a 16-yard rushing touchdown to extend its lead to 22 points. On the final UHS drive of the game, Boudreau threw an interception, allowing the VHS offense to set up in victory formation and take a knee for the win.
Although UHS previously lost to Corona Del Mar High School this season, this was its first game all season in which it did not have a late game opportunity to win. It was not the way perhaps the best UHS football team in nearly a decade would have hoped to end its season, but the team’s 8-3 overall record speaks for itself and inspires hope for UHS football fans.