Over the past three weeks, the Crescenta Valley High and Simi Valley football teams have taken different paths to winning postseason games.
It’s culminated in Crescenta Valley and Simi Valley left standing as the last two final squads in the CIF Southern Section Division X playoffs with a chance to grab the ultimate prize — a championship.
The stakes will reach an apex when top-seeded Crescenta Valley (13-0) travels to face upstart Simi Valley (10-3) in the championship contest at 7 p.m. Friday.
Crescenta Valley, which won the Pacific League championship, will look to win the programs third CIF title and second in the last six seasons. Simi Valley, which finished second in the Canyon League behind Oak Park, will attempt to capture the program’s first CIF crown.
“It will definitely be exciting and it takes a lot of hard work just to get here,” said Crescenta Valley first-year coach Hudson Gossard, whose team has relied on its defense to post playoff wins against Peninsula (20-11), Eisenhower (45-20) and Katella (28-10). “It’s another chance to win a CIF championship game and it’s great for our community.
“It’s been a special run and we just want to keep it going. Simi Valley has got a very good team and they’ve been doing a lot of things well in the playoffs. It should be a great game.”
Simi Valley recorded playoff victories against Western (37-32), Notre Vista (41-24) and Orange (30-14) to arrive at the title contest.
Under the direction of second-year coach Jim Benkert, Simi Valley has mostly rallied in the second half to earn its postseasons wins.
“It’s been a great run and we’ve been the underdog in all three of our games,” said Benkert, a legendary coach who won four CIF championships at Westlake (1999, 2002. 2003 and 2009) and one at Oaks Christian (2017). “We’ve either been behind or tied and we’ve found a way to come back and win. It’s a good sign and we have one more game ahead that will be a very good test for both teams.”
Crescenta Valley earned a 28-10 semifinal home victory against Katella on Friday at Glendale High’s Moyse Field. Running back Maximus Grant scored two touchdowns, including a 65-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Brendon Pehar. Colby Rees and Sebastian DeLeon each scored one touchdown for the Falcons, who won CIF titles in 1973 and 2014.
The Falcons have relied on their defense, yielding just 13.6 points per game in the playoffs, as well as its special teams.
“Crescenta Valley’s defense is aggressive and has lots of speed,” Benkert said. “Their defense creates a lot of opportunities for their offense.”
Simi Valley rallied to turn back visiting Orange, 30-14, in a semifinal home tilt Friday. The Pioneers received a huge effort from running back Elijah Leiva, who rushed for more than 260 yards and scored one touchdown.
Simi Valley is averaging 36 points per contest in the postseason.
Gossard, who was previously an assistant with the Falcons, said he relishes the opportunity to coach against Benkert.
“About 10 years ago, I went up to Westlake and went to a coaching clinic put on by Coach Benkert and I learned quite a lot,” Gossard said. “He talked about how to be efficient and effective; how to keep things simple.
“These are things that you pick up on and use them for your team and see how it works. I respect him a lot and it’s something that we’ll be coaching against each other Friday.”
Grant has rushed for 940 yards in 134 carries and 11 touchdowns (14 overall). DeLeon has contributed 11 rushing touchdowns and leads the team with 153 tackles.
“It feels amazing,” Grant said. “We’ve been building since then and we have the greatest chemistry. Everybody understands each other.
“We can go in the locker room, talk about our problems and finish it like we did [Friday night against Katella].”
Gossard said it’s possible starting quarterback Chase Center will return after missing four games after suffering a leg/knee injury against Muir on Oct. 25. Center has completed 76 of 116 passes for 1,192 yards and 18 touchdowns and six interceptions in nine games before Pehar filled in admirably the last month. Pehar has tossed five postseason touchdown passes.
The Pioneers, who have won five games in a row, are paced by Leyva, who has rushed for 1,706 yards in 155 carries and 19 touchdowns. Quarterback Travis Throckmorton has completed 162 of 247 passes for 1,988 yards and 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. Linebacker Jime Deyoung leads Simi Valley with 126 tackles.