For the second year in a row, the Simi Valley Grace Brethren football team is one win away from a state championship. This time the Lancers hope to cap their journey with a banner.
Grace Brethren used a relentless rushing attack throughout the second half and grinded out a 28-14 victory over San Diego St. Augustine in a Division 2-AA Southern California regional game Friday night at Cal Lutheran University.
Josh Henderson rushed for 161 yards and three touchdowns in 25 carries, including a 25-yard run that gave the Lancers a 21-7 lead early in the fourth quarter and a 37-yard burst that made the score 28-14 with 1:11 left. Troy Hothan sealed the victory with his 11th interception of the season at the Lancers’ eight-yard line with 45 seconds left.
“I know what I have to do for this team,” said Henderson, son of head coach Josh Henderson. “I give credit to my O-line on that last one. The hole was there and I just ran through it. We run the ball. That’s what we do. We have confidence in each other and our coaches that we’ll find ways to win.”
St. Augustine, the San Diego Section Division II champion, used a little razzle-dazzle to pull within a touchdown. Tyson McWilliams caught a sideline pass and pitched to a trailing Michael Ambagtsheer, who sprinted 15 yards for a touchdown with 7:35 left.
Leading 21-14, Grace Brethren, the Southern Section Division 4 champion, forced an incompletion on fourth down at its own 49-yard line with 2:01 left. A 29-yard touchdown run by Lontrelle Diggs was later nullified by a holding penalty, but Henderson added the clincher on the next play.
Diggs ran three times for only five yards in the first half, but the Lancers’ leading rusher had 60 yards in 13 carries in the second half. Quarterback Mikey Zele threw only six passes, completing two for 40 yards.
Henderson’s one-yard run capped an 18-play, 80-yard drive that tied the score 7-7 with 16 seconds left in the first half.
Zele gained 25 yards on a keeper on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Eight plays later he tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Nate Bennett and the Lancers had their first lead 14-7.
After both teams punted on their first two possessions, the Saints (10-4) drove 89 yards and scored on a nine-yard pass from Angelo Peraza to Samuel Scoff, his 15th touchdown catch of the year.
The Lancers (13-2) play the Northern California region winner for the state title Dec. 14 at Cerritos College.
“Losing last year left a bitter taste in our mouths,” Henderson added. “Winning state is really important to us—that’s been our goal all season. Now we’re one win away.”
Grace Brethren went 13-3 last year, winning the Southern Section Division 8 title and beating San Bernardino Aquinas 24-8 in the Division 2-A SoCal regional game before losing 22-13 to Mountain View St. Francis in the state final in Sacramento.
Zele threw for 1,873 yards and 22 touchdowns as a freshman one year ago when the Lancers boasted two 1,000-yard rushers in Diggs (1,742) and Seven McGee (1,151), who has since transferred.
A tiny school with an enrollment of 305 students, Grace Brethren started as an 8-man football program in 1991. It played in Division 13 four years ago, Division 8 last year and jumped four more divisions this year. Yet the Lancers keep right on winning.