SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — It was a sigh of relief five games and one contentious second half in the making.
But when all was concluded, the offensive prowess of senior running back Marro Lee and quarterback Zac Wilkerson, along with a 21-point first-quarter scoring blitz was just enough to stave off a rallying Santa Paula High, as Crescenta Valley prevailed, 40-32, to open its season with a victory and snap a five-game losing skid in the process.
"It felt great," said Lee of making his return after missing the last five games of the 2010 season with a broken thumb. "I thought everyone fought hard."
Lee dazzled to the tune of 131 yards and two rushing touchdowns in 20 attempts, while Wilkerson threw for 197 yards on eight-of-16 passing and hit Nick Ruiz for a 73-yard touchdown. Wilkerson also ran for two scores and 56 yards in 10 carries.
The Wilkerson-to-Ruiz scoring hookup and scoring runs by Lee and Wilkerson put the Falcons up, 21-0, after a first quarter in which they scored on all three of their possessions. But after taking a 24-3 halftime lead, Crescenta Valley saw the game get as close as 33-25 with 5:41 to play before Wilkerson hit Lee on a 38-yard pass to the Cardinals 12 that set up a Lee rushing score and an insurmountable 40-25 lead with 2:19 to play.
"I think we all realize this is a new season," said Lee, downplaying the aspect of stopping the losing streak.
Nonetheless, there was no downplaying a rather sloppy game on both sides characterized by myriad penalties that took the game time to three hours.
"I thought it was a sloppy game," Lee said. "We've got a lot of things to work on, but a win's a win."
Despite the Falcons' fast start in the first quarter, the first half was painstakingly slow due to a rash of penalties and a skirmish after a Santa Paula fumble.
Both teams had touchdowns called back on first-quarter drives, but CV was able to rebound.
The Falcons opened with a four-play, 69-yard drive that took just 1:01 and was keyed by a William Wang 36-yard run and concluded by a Lee six-yard scamper.
Santa Paula had a Kameron Klein-to-Ramiro Montano 72-yard score called back on its ensuing drive, leading to a punt. Wang then had an 80-yard scoring run called back on CV's follow-up drive, but the very next play, Wilkerson hit Ruiz in stride.
A Wilkerson sneak with 5:30 left in the opening period made it 21-0.
Santa Paula's ensuing drive went all the way to the CV one before Naz Erdoglyan recovered a fumble. Out of the scrum, it got physical, creating a lengthy delay that also saw Falcons Ruiz and Armon Pashai ejected, as well as Cardinal Hayden McClain.
Pavle Atanakcovic kicked the first of his two field goals on the game to make it 24-0 before Santa Paula made it 24-3 after a Steven Kohr touchdown was called back on a penalty.
Kohr scored to make it 24-10 to open the second half before Lee scored from 12 yards out to make it 30-10.
Santa Paula used an 89-yard kickoff return by Daniel Kohr to cut the lead to 33-17 before another Steven Kohr rushing score got the Cardinals to within 33-25.
But then Wilkerson and Lee showed up one final time to clinch the win.