Sunny Hills football sheds stereotypes, captures CIF title with neighborhood kids

FULLERTON A small group of Sunny Hills players stayed after practice this week to toss the football around and joke with each other until darkness nearly covered their field.

The players seemed to soak up each precious minute, recognizing the time and place were indeed special.

Sunny Hills’ once-struggling football program actually held practices this week as a reigning CIF-SS champion.

“Nothing better than this,” senior quarterback and captain Luke Duxbury said.

Sunny Hills (12-2) will load into a bus Saturday morning and head north for a showdown in the CIF State SoCal Division 3-A regionals at Bakersfield Christian (10-3) at 6 p.m.

It will be a remarkable road trip, full of hip hop music on the bus and another football clash, for a school that started the 2019 playoffs seeking its first postseason victory of any kind since 1996.

It will be a remarkable trip for a program once dubbed as a “hard” school to win at.

So how have the Lancers become winners? One ingredient fifth-year coach Pete Karavedas pointed to this week was Sunny Hills’ success attracting its neighborhood kids from Parks Junior High.

And sure enough, those were the kids on the field enjoying themselves in the near darkness this week.

Duxbury (6-1,m 175) and fellow star senior Wilson Cal (6-1, 190) were classmates at Parks Junior High.

Rising junior linebacker Carson Irons (6-0, 190) also attended Parks along with junior tight end/outside linebacker Noah Brown (6-0, 210) and Arnold Beltran.

And the list goes on.

“Pretty much everybody, or (they attended) Fisler,” Duxbury explained.

In years past as the Lancers struggled, the top athletes from Parks landed at other schools such as Troy or Fullerton.

Sunny Hills has worked hard to win them back with activities such as youth camps but they still needed standouts such as Duxbury and Cal to take a leap of faith.

They were Pop Warner teammates with the Fullerton Titans and both decided to attend Sunny Hills in 2016 despite the school not having a winning season since 2008.

“I was going to follow him where ever he went and he was following me where ever I went,” Duxbury said of Cal, who plays wide receiver and defensive back. “We knew if we both went to the same school, we could do some damage.”

Duxbury was a ball boy at Fullerton High as an eighth grader but saw the Lancers making progress on and off the field.

In the fall of 2015, in Karavedas’ first season, the Lancers beat Fullerton in Week 10 34-27 and made the playoffs as an at-large entry.

“They had coaches who put their players in position to make plays,” Duxbury recalled at the time. “We figured this would be our best opportunity to win a title.”

The Lancers did just last weekend in Santa Barbara, defeating the Dons 24-21 in the CIF-SS Division 8 final after a late interception by Cal.

Sunny Hills knows its not on the level of Freeway League rival La Habra but they’re defending their local turf. The Lancers have swept Fullerton and Troy the past two seasons.

They’re also changing the reputation of Sunny Hills football.

“This means so much to us because it breaks the stereotype, ‘Oh, Sunny Hills has been so garbage at football for the past 20 years,’ ” Duxbury said.

And the Lancers aren’t done. Their roster is a diverse mix of ethnic groups and they’ve already developed a position group to watch next year: “LBU”. Sunny Hills starts four junior linebackers in Irons, Kevin Hu, Brown and Vince Silva.

And there’s the opportunity on Saturday in Bakersfield to keep the magical run alive. Imagine, Sunny Hills as a California state champion?

“It’s a good feeling when there’s years of hard work behind (this),” Duxbury said. “We’ve been working all offseason, pretty much our whole lives to get to this moment.”

 

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Orange County girls tennis to be well-represented at CIF-SS individual semifinals

Orange County girls tennis will be well-represented Friday at the CIF-SS individual championships at Seal Beach Tennis Center.

Three of the four doubles teams in the semifinal are from the county while junior Kayla Meraz of Brea Olinda also made the final day of the tournament.

The finals will follow the semifinals Friday.

In doubles, top-seeded and Pacific Coast League champion Mya Wang and Emily Markus of University defeated Elaine Wu and Rakel Ang of San Marino 7-5, 7-5 on Thursday to reach the semifinals against Laguna Beach’s Ella Pachal and Sarah MacCallum.

The Wave League champions defeated Milana Molnar and Bailey Smolinski of San Juan Hills 6-0, 7-6 in another quarterfinal.

Beckman sophomores Victoria Aguiree and Kaitlyn Nguyen, the Pacific Coast League runner-ups, advanced to the semifinals by defeating Arcadia’s Makaila Cheng and Cara Hung 6-2, 6-3.

In singles, Brea Olinda junior Kayla Meraz advanced to the semifinals by defeating Troy junior Jenna Sabile 6-4, 6-1. Meraz, the North Hills League runner-up, will face Chadwick senior and Wake Forest commit Casie Wooten in the 9 a.m. semifinals.

 

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All of OCVarsity’s stories, photos, scores and more from Saturday’s CIF-SS championship games

This is the place to find all of OCVarsity’s coverage of the CIF-SS football championship games on Saturday night, plus the games on Friday night.

We’ll have a story on the CIF SoCal Regional pairings online Sunday afternoon and the final Orange County Top 25 online Monday afternoon.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

OCVarsity Photos: All the drama, celebrations from Saturday’s CIF-SS football championships

CIF-SS football playoff scores: Saturday, Nov. 30

St. John Bosco rallies to stun No. 1 Mater Dei for CIF-SS Division 1 football title

Fryer on football: Season ends with unexpected twist for Mater Dei and Bryce Young

Whicker: Bosco’s Bravehearts ride their defense to an amazing comeback

San Juan Hills football reaches the top by winning CIF-SS Division 4 championship

Sunny Hills football delivers another amazing finish to win CIF-SS Division 8 title

Esperanza football wins first CIF-SS title since 1992 with heroic effort by Gooding, defense

FRIDAY’S GAMES

All of OCVarsity’s stories, scores, photos and more from Friday’s championship games

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Whicker: Bosco’s Bravehearts ride their defense to an amazing comeback

NORWALK — They blitzed him from all sides, encroaching him en masse, collapsing his pocket. All the while, D.J. Uiagalelei couldn’t stop laughing.

They were St. John Bosco classmates, friends, parents of friends, parents of classmates, little brothers and sisters and maybe some strangers, too. They took turns posing for selfies with Uiagalelei, as if he were a famous statue. Some hugged him. Some just looked in his eyes and yelled, overcome with delight.

They will see Uiagalelei play one more high school football game, one more than any of them could have imagined in the second quarter of this CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship game at Cerritos College Saturday night. At one point the Braves trailed Mater Dei, 28-5. They won, 39-34, and someone asked safety JonJon Vaughns where they could have found such hope. “When you have heart, you have hope,” he said.

Bravehearts, indeed. Talent helps, too.


St. John Bosco Braves head coach Jason Negro, left, holds the championship placard over quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) at the end of the 2019 CIF Southern Section Division 1 High School Football Championship game at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif. on Saturday November 30, 2019. St. John Bosco Braves defeated the Mater Dei Monarchs 39-34. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

Uiagalelei will lead the Braves against De La Salle two weekends from now, in a state championship game. After that, his next appearance will be on behalf of Clemson. He looked the part here, with five touchdown passes, no interceptions and 441 yards. At one point the Braves scored 34 consecutive points.

But the defense was the driving force, at least after it gave up two touchdowns in Mater Dei’s first six plays. After that, the Monarchs scored only 20 more points, six in the second half, and even though Bryce Young threw five TD passes of his own, Mater Dei suffered four turnovers, and Bosco’s pass rushers painted Young into a deeper corner with each snap. The Braves held the Monarchs to 139 yards in the second half.

“We couldn’t let Bryce run around like he usually does,” said Nathan Burrell, who had two sacks, blitzed Young into an intentional grounding call in the end zone, which is a safety, and tipped a pass and intercepted it in the fourth quarter.

“He’s more dangerous on the outside than the inside,” Burrell said. “And we started running some games as the game went on, gave their linemen some different looks. They don’t like to move like that.”

“We sat back and tried to control Bryce and make him throw the ball down the field,” said Jason Negro, the Bosco coach. “That’s when we were able to make plays. I think we might have confused him and made him change some things on the line of scrimmage. And we moved Nathan around quite a bit.”

Mater Dei had a final shot when Negro decided to go for fourth-and-1 in his own territory. Uiagalelei tried to sneak it but was stacked up by Tyler Narayan among others. But Ma’a Gaoteote broke free and sacked Young, who fumbled it to Bosco’s Andrew Simpson.

Mater Dei had won its previous three games by a total of 102 points and had failed to win by fewer than 20 points only twice. They also had beaten Bosco 38-24 on Oct. 25. Sometimes you can be too good for your own good, although the Braves weren’t accustomed to contentious fourth quarters either, with only one close win of their own (27-26 at Servite).

“On that last sack we were in the wrong protection,” said Bruce Rollinson, the Monarchs’ coach. “They brought a seventh guy and we didn’t see him. Bryce was great, he made all the calls the whole game. We had opportunities, and when we’ve had opportunities this year we’ve always capitalized. Tonight we didn’t, and that’s high school football.

“We were ahead, and we told them at halftime just to erase everything that had happened. But that’s a good team over there.”

Bosco didn’t let Young or anyone else run, although Mater Dei only rushed 16 times, for 32 yards. “We knew they really wanted to throw the ball, which helped us,” Burrell said.

The other key was removing Kody Epps, who had caught 11 passes for 175 yards in the regular-season victory. Epps caught just one pass Saturday, none in the first half.

“We had to double-team him,” Vaughns said. “Definitely we double-teamed him in the slot, and when he was wide we moved a safety over to that side. Everybody else was on an island. We couldn’t let him hurt us like we did before.

“I told my D-linemen that we were going to give them six seconds. We were going to cover them for six seconds, so y’all go get him (Young). They did a great job, but I thought after halftime our whole offense and defense were rolling.”

Nobody on the field was ready to go home yet. It was a boisterous, somewhat bitter game, but now Braves and Monarchs were chatting in peace. As Vaughns said, many of the players had known each other since youth football. They’ve been in all-star games together, been on the same recruiting trips.

But the magnet was Uiagalelei, greeting all comers like a politician on a rope line.

“We’ve seen him do this so many times before,” Burrell said. “D.J.’s a god.”

His disciples weren’t bad either.

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Bosco’s Bravehearts ride their defense to an amazing comeback

NORWALK — They blitzed him from all sides, encroaching him en masse, collapsing his pocket. All the while, D.J. Uiagalelei couldn’t stop laughing.

They were St. John Bosco classmates, friends, parents of friends, parents of classmates, little brothers and sisters and maybe some strangers, too. They took turns posing for selfies with Uiagalelei, as if he were a famous statue. Some hugged him. Some just looked in his eyes and yelled, overcome with delight.

They will see Uiagalelei play one more high school football game, one more than any of them could have imagined in the second quarter of this CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship game at Cerritos College Saturday night. At one point the Braves trailed Mater Dei, 28-5. They won, 39-34, and someone asked safety JonJon Vaughns where they could have found such hope. “When you have heart, you have hope,” he said.

Bravehearts, indeed. Talent helps, too.


St. John Bosco Braves head coach Jason Negro, left, holds the championship placard over quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) at the end of the 2019 CIF Southern Section Division 1 High School Football Championship game at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif. on Saturday November 30, 2019. St. John Bosco Braves defeated the Mater Dei Monarchs 39-34. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

Uiagalelei will lead the Braves against De La Salle two weekends from now, in a state championship game. After that, his next appearance will be on behalf of Clemson. He looked the part here, with five touchdown passes, no interceptions and 441 yards. At one point the Braves scored 34 consecutive points.

But the defense was the driving force, at least after it gave up two touchdowns in Mater Dei’s first six plays. After that, the Monarchs scored only 20 more points, six in the second half, and even though Bryce Young threw five TD passes of his own, Mater Dei suffered four turnovers, and Bosco’s pass rushers painted Young into a deeper corner with each snap. The Braves held the Monarchs to 139 yards in the second half.

“We couldn’t let Bryce run around like he usually does,” said Nathan Burrell, who had two sacks, blitzed Young into an intentional grounding call in the end zone, which is a safety, and tipped a pass and intercepted it in the fourth quarter.

“He’s more dangerous on the outside than the inside,” Burrell said. “And we started running some games as the game went on, gave their linemen some different looks. They don’t like to move like that.”

“We sat back and tried to control Bryce and make him throw the ball down the field,” said Jason Negro, the Bosco coach. “That’s when we were able to make plays. I think we might have confused him and made him change some things on the line of scrimmage. And we moved Nathan around quite a bit.”

Mater Dei had a final shot when Negro decided to go for fourth-and-1 in his own territory. Uiagalelei tried to sneak it but was stacked up by Tyler Narayan among others. But Ma’a Gaoteote broke free and sacked Young, who fumbled it to Bosco’s Andrew Simpson.

Mater Dei had won its previous three games by a total of 102 points and had failed to win by fewer than 20 points only twice. They also had beaten Bosco 38-24 on Oct. 25. Sometimes you can be too good for your own good, although the Braves weren’t accustomed to contentious fourth quarters either, with only one close win of their own (27-26 at Servite).

“On that last sack we were in the wrong protection,” said Bruce Rollinson, the Monarchs’ coach. “They brought a seventh guy and we didn’t see him. Bryce was great, he made all the calls the whole game. We had opportunities, and when we’ve had opportunities this year we’ve always capitalized. Tonight we didn’t, and that’s high school football.

“We were ahead, and we told them at halftime just to erase everything that had happened. But that’s a good team over there.”

Bosco didn’t let Young or anyone else run, although Mater Dei only rushed 16 times, for 32 yards. “We knew they really wanted to throw the ball, which helped us,” Burrell said.

The other key was removing Kody Epps, who had caught 11 passes for 175 yards in the regular-season victory. Epps caught just one pass Saturday, none in the first half.

“We had to double-team him,” Vaughns said. “Definitely we double-teamed him in the slot, and when he was wide we moved a safety over to that side. Everybody else was on an island. We couldn’t let him hurt us like we did before.

“I told my D-linemen that we were going to give them six seconds. We were going to cover them for six seconds, so y’all go get him (Young). They did a great job, but I thought after halftime our whole offense and defense were rolling.”

Nobody on the field was ready to go home yet. It was a boisterous, somewhat bitter game, but now Braves and Monarchs were chatting in peace. As Vaughns said, many of the players had known each other since youth football. They’ve been in all-star games together, been on the same recruiting trips.

But the magnet was Uiagalelei, greeting all comers like a politician on a rope line.

“We’ve seen him do this so many times before,” Burrell said. “D.J.’s a god.”

His disciples weren’t bad either.

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All of OCVarsity’s stories, scores, photos and more from Friday’s championship games

This is the place to find all of OCVarsity’s coverage of the CIF-SS championship football games on Friday and the previews of Saturday’s games.

FRIDAY’S GAMES

OCVarsity Photos: Friday’s CIF-SS football championship games

CIF-SS football playoff scores: Friday, Nov. 29

Corona del Mar reverses fortunes, beats Grace Brethren for CIF-SS Division 3 title

Marina knocks off Muir to win first CIF-SS football title

Cypress football tripped up by turnovers, loses to Temecula Valley in Division 7 final

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Record-setting receiver Kody Epps lands in the center of Mater Dei-St. John Bosco CIF-SS showdown

Fryer: Who has the edge in Mater Dei vs. St. John Bosco? It looks one-sided

Steve Fryer and Dan Albano predictions for CIF-SS football championship games

Sunny Hills football will count on group effort to bring home CIF-SS title

Esperanza football shares the credit for team’s stunning trip to Division 13 title game

St. John Bosco defenders hopeful they can slow Mater Dei’s ‘Magic Man’ in CIF-SS football final

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University girls tennis captures SoCal regional title after Coach John Kessler hospitalized

University’s girls tennis team captured the CIF USTA SoCal regional title in Claremont on Saturday, one day after its highly-successful coach John Kessler was hospitalized with a brain bleed.

The second-seeded Trojans defeated No. 5 Westlake 5-2 in the final at The Claremont Club behind a well-balanced effort in singles and doubles.

The CIF-SS Division 1 runner-up included a cutout image of Kessler in their celebratory photograph after the two-day tournament.

University co-coach Kevin Garrett said Saturday night that Kessler left the semifinals of the tournament Friday in an ambulance and was found to have a brain bleed.

The charismatic coach remains hospitalized in Pomona, Garrett said.

Kessler has guided University’s girls to seven CIF-SS runner-up finishes and the boys to nine section championships.

University earned victories Saturday in singles from Tiffany Carrillo-Quintero, Jane Lee and Kamya Nair.

In doubles, the teams of Emily Markus-Mya Wang and Therese Garcia-Megan Bee posted victories.

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Fryer on Football: Forget Division 1, all of the excitement is in the lower divisions


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Sunny Hills linebacker Carson Irons had the ball and a question.

“‘What is this? This has never happened to me before,’” Irons said after his game-clinching interception Friday in the Lancers’ 31-27 win over Trabuco Hills in a CIF-Southern Section Division 8 semifinal football game.

“And then I realized that was the game,” Irons said. “It’s crazy.”

Orange County teams had some crazy finishes, including that one, in Friday’s semifinals.

San Juan Hills went for two points in overtime and got them to beat top-seeded Paramount 29-28.

Cypress beat top-seeded and previously undefeated Serrano 26-21 in the Division 7 semifinals. Isaac Hurtado, Orange County’s best running back, is a good defensive player, too. He tackled Serrano quarterback Parker Chaffee on fourth down in the final seconds to preserve the win.

In a Division 13 semifinal, Esperanza receiver Roshawn Lacy scored on a trick play with 14 seconds left, and running back Walter Gooding ran in the 2-point conversion to give Esperanza a victory over previously undefeated Inglewood.

Marina went all the way out to Hemet for a 27-7 win that put the Vikings in their first CIF-SS football championship game.

And in Division 1, the division with nationally-ranked teams all over the bracket, the games were comparatively boring.

The idea behind making Division 1 an eight-team division in the CIF-SS playoffs was to eliminate the one-sided games often seen in the division’s first round.

It did not work.

Top-seeded Mater Dei has won its two Division 1 playoff games by an average margin of 33 points. Second-seeded St. John Bosco advanced to the championship game with two wins that had an average margin of 47 points.

Centennial of Corona got to the semifinals with a 56-0 win over JSerra in the quarterfinals. The one competitive game of the six Division 1 games was Mission Viejo’s 38-35 win over Servite in the quarterfinals.

Mater Dei and St. John Bosco meet for the third year in a row in the CIF-SS Division 1 final Saturday at Cerritos College. Mater Dei beat St. John Bosco in the Division 1 championship game in 2018 and ’17.

Other CIF-SS division finals can be played at the home teams’ regular sites on Friday, Nov. 29 and Saturday, Nov. 30.

Orange County teams with championship home games are Corona del Mar, Cypress and Marina.

Corona del Mar plays its home games at Davidson Field on the Newport Harbor High grounds. Cypress plays home games at Handel Stadium at Western High. Marina plays home games at Boswell Stadium at Westminster High.

The CIF-SS office can move those games to other locations if it is believed crowds for the games will be too large for those venues. But all three of those stadiums likely will be considered adequate to hold championship games.

Division 1 this coming week will draw the most attention. It should. Mater Dei and St. John Bosco have the best players in Southern California and they play a sophisticated and hard-hitting brand of football. The quarterbacks, St. John Bosco’s DJ Uiagalelei and Mater Dei’s Bryce Young, alone are worth watching or setting up the DVR for.

Yet, from what we’ve seen in these playoffs, Mater Dei-St. John Bosco might be a dull game. If the semifinals are indicative of what’s to come, the best CIF-SS championship games will take place in the lower divisions.

Maybe more of those crazy finishes are coming up this week.

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All of OCVarsity’s stories, scores and video from Friday’s CIF-SS football playoffs

This is the place to find all of OCVarsity’s coverage of the CIF-SS football playoff games Friday night.

We’ll have the CIF-SS championship schedule online Saturday afternoon and the weekly leaders.

FRIDAY’S GAMES

OCVarsity Photos: All the action, excitement from Friday’s CIF-SS football semifinals

CIF-SS football playoff scores: Friday, Nov. 22

Bryce Young’s 7 TDs lead Mater Dei past Mission Viejo and back to Division 1 final

San Juan Hills stuns top seed Paramount in overtime to reach first CIF-SS final

Sunny Hills calm at the end, collects win over Trabuco Hills and spot in Division 8 final

Corona del Mar’s Ethan Garbers spoils Alemany football’s CIF-SS Division 3 title bid

Judge rejects attempt to have San Clemente football reinstated to CIF-SS playoffs

Hurtado does it all at the end, lifting Cypress past Serrano and into Division 7 title game

Josh Henderson’s 5 TDs lead Grace Brethren past La Habra in thrilling semifinal

Esperanza pulls off stunning win over Inglewood to earn first trip to finals since 2005

Marina football reaches its first CIF championship game with road win over Hemet

South Torrance overpowers Loara, grabs spot in Division 14 championship game

Elijah Leiva rushes for 280, helps Simi Valley football reach title game with win over Orange

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Elijah Leiva rushes for 280, helps Simi Valley football reach title game with win over Orange

SIMI VALLEY >> In what was a very chippy semifinal of the CIF Southern Section Division 10 playoffs Simi Valley defeats Orange 30-14 to move onto the championship. Elijah Leiva led the Pioneers with 28 carries for 280 yards and one touchdown to help bring Simi Valley football to their first ever CIF Championship.

“I’m just so happy for the kids,” Simi Valley Coach Jim Benkert said. “We’re happy to get to the title game, but now we have to finish.”

Simi got the scoring started early when Wesley Fry picked off Daylen Pedroza and returned it 70 yards to make it 6-0 Simi. Orange was quickly able to bounce back from the 6-0 deficit on a Isacc Galvan 58-yard touchdown run with 9:08 left in the opening quarter.

Galvan finished his night early though after punching a Simi Valley player following his last carry of the game in the third quarter. Galvan finished with 20 carries for 140 yards and both of Orange’s touchdowns.

In the second half, Simi dominated the play and time of possession through Leiva. Leiva scored his lone touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run to give Simi a 16-14 lead at the beginning of the second half.

“I couldn’t have done it without my O-line,” Leiva said. “They gave me a chance to get out in the open field and do the rest.”

The Simi defense was strong, holding Orange’s high powered RPO offense to only 14 points and getting two interceptions. Quarterback Travis Throckmorton was 12 of 22 for 144 yards and one rushing touchdown for Simi. Ranell White had a 69-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for the Pioneers.

Simi Valley will now take on number one seed Crescenta Valley in the D10 championship next week at Simi High.

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