ORANGE LEAGUE : Western Struggles to Beat Valencia


Western can now look ahead to more significant Orange League games. The Pioneers also can look back with relief.

The Pioneers remained undefeated and kept their share of the league lead. But their 15-10 victory over Valencia Thursday at Valencia was more a matter of survival than dominance.

Normally a victory, any victory, over the Tigers would be worth celebrating. It would be an important steppingstone on the way to a league title. But this is not your typical Valencia team.

The Tigers have won 10 of the last 12 league titles and have qualified for the playoffs 15 consecutive seasons. But they entered Thursday's game with one victory in six games and were winless league play. They were a team to get fat on, yet the Pioneers (7-0, 2-0) had a lean evening.

Western struggled, but seemed to have the game wrapped up when Valencia defensive back Stephen Flores stripped the ball from quarterback Dean Chambers, giving the Tigers the ball at midfield with 2 minutes 24 seconds left.

Valencia (1-6, 0-2) got as close as the Pioneer 30. But Western defensive back Mike Mueller intercepted an Eric Young pass on the 10 with 1:26 left and the Pioneers hung on.

It was also Mueller who set up the Pioneers' second touchdown. He recovered a punt fumbled by Tarl Lang on the 11. Two plays later, Sergio Garcia scored on a three-yard run for a 15-3 lead in the third quarter.

The Pioneers sustained only one drive. Trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, Chambers completed four of five passes on a 78-yard drive. The biggest pass was to tight end Vince Branstetter, covering 31 yards to the Valencia 14. It set up a one-yard touchdown by Mueller.

Valencia's defense contained Western the rest of the game.

Chambers was a so-so seven of 13 for 101 yards. He had a pass intercepted by Allan Manning on the goal line just before halftime.

Western's David Bell missed one field goal and another attempt was blocked.

Meanwhile, the Valencia offense showed flashes of the past, when Tiger running backs often had 1,000-yard seasons. Jimmy DiDodo gained 83 yards and Julian Gomez 80, as Valencia had 187 yards rushing.

But the Tigers could not overcome mistakes.

In the second quarter, Gomez gained six yards for a first down on the Western two. But a holding penalty nullified the run and the Tigers settled for Manning's 37-yard field goal.

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