GLENDALE — One step closer to perfection means one step closer to a championship ring.
With a four-point lead in its CIF Southern Section Division X semifinal against Katella High at Moyse Field on Friday, the Crescenta Valley football team scored twice in the final quarter to earn 28-10 victory and book a spot in its first championship game since 2014.
“It was a tough game,” Falcons first-year coach Hudson Gossard said. “It should be. It’s the semifinals. We cleaned it up in the second half and, hey, you have to make plays in the big, pressured situations and we did. We were able to come out on top and it was great.”
The Falcons (13-0) went undefeated on its way to the Pacific League title and advance to their first title game since 2014, when they also finished the season unbeaten.
The Falcons will travel to Simi Valley for the Division X championship game on Friday or Saturday. The Canyon League runner-up Pioneers enter the title game with a 10-3 record after a 30-14 victory against Orange in the other division semifinal.
Crescenta Valley junior quarterback Brendon Pehar filled in once more for the injured Chase Center, who was suited up, but did not play. Pehar finished 14 of 18 passing for two touchdowns and 138 yards. His Katella counterpart Pharrell Scorza completed 11 of 23 passes for 106 yards, an interception and a touchdown.
“We just saw how close we were to winning the game and we just had to put the foot on the gas on a little more,” said Pehar of the fourth-quarter scores. “I felt like we lost two touchdowns. ... That kind of set us back a little bit and we were kind of frustrated. Coach said at halftime that we had to keep our composure and finish it since we were right there.”
Falcons running back Maximus Grant scored twice on an eight-yard run and a 65-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Crescenta Valley receiver Colby Rees added a six-yard rushing touchdown and running back Sebastian DeLeon scored on a five-yard touchdown catch.
An interception by DeLeon set up an eight-yard touchdown for Grant, who ran the ball on all four plays on the drive, to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead at 8:34 in the first.
At the start of the second quarter, a holding call on the punt attempt pegged the Falcons back to their 10-yard line, and the ensuing snap sailed out of the end zone for a Katella safety, 7-2.
On its next drive, Grant coughed up the ball after a 10-yard gain to turn the ball over to Katella, which won the Orange League title, in Knights’ territory with 8:57 left in the half.
Two big pass plays of 31 and 30 yards moved the Knights down the field to the Falcons’ 14. Katella (11-2) capped the drive with a four-yard touchdown reception from Raymond Mendoza to take a 10-7 lead with 4:39 in the half after the successful two-point conversion.
“We talk about the little things,” Gossard said. “We say the little things are lining up correctly, knowing situational football — things of that nature. In the first half, we did not do the little things that we’re always used to doing.
“To be honest with you, I think we underestimated Katella a little bit. When you look, size-wise, Katella is not the biggest team, but that team is fiery and they are a great team. They were hitting us in the mouth.”
The Falcons responded with a 65-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Grant for a 14-10 lead with 4:18 before the half.
“We just wanted to work harder,” said Grant, who had a 66-yard touchdown catch called back on a holding penalty on the Falcons in the first quarter. “It brought us back more yards, but made it look better for the stats.
"[In the fourth quarter] we talked to each other and told each other our problems. We picked it up on our line, which was just amazing all year. We picked it up. We fond out our problems and just finished it.”
After a scoreless third quarter, the Falcons saw their first fourth-quarter drive extend on an offside penalty against the Knights.
Six plays later, Rees ran in a six-yard score to give the Falcons a bit of a breathing room with a 21-10 lead with 6:12 left.
The Knights were hindered with penalties on their first possession, and the visitors turned the ball over on downs at their 4-yard line after a Falcons sack.
DeLeon punched in a five-yard score to further extend the Falcons lead to 28-10 with 3:21 remaining.