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Valiants edged in 2011 season opener

The Valiants lead 3-0 early, but fall 8-3 in coach Doug Ierardi's debut
by: Miles Vance RUNNING STRONG — Valley Catholic sophomore running back Liam Walsh battles for yardage in his team's Saturday game against Colton.

BEAVERTON - Valley Catholic opened the second chapter in its relatively brief football history on Saturday.

The Valiants, hosting Colton in a non-league game at Valley Catholic High School, played their first contest under new head coach Doug Ierardi, who took over in the fifth year of football at VC. And while Saturday's game wasn't a win for Valley Catholic - Colton outlasted the Valiants 8-3 - there were still a lot of positives for the youthful VC squad.

'I thought we played as hard as we could,' said sophomore running back/linebacker Liam Walsh, who had 37 yards rushing on 15 carries and also picked off a Colton pass. 'They were big, but we used our technique. I'm pretty proud of my defense.'

Saturday's game opened with a flurry of big plays and scoring, then settled into a back-and-forth defensive battle that kept the outcome in doubt until the contest's final minutes. Valley Catholic's defense was on board right from the opening kick, stopping the Vikings' first series on three downs and forcing a punt.

And when Colton snapped the ball high over punter Chris Wilson's head, Valley Catholic took over at the Vikings' 9-yard line just 1 minute, 41 seconds into the game. Tailback Clay Kemper picked up one yard on first down, and quarterback Tysen Prunty advanced three more on second, but Prunty was tripped up on a third-down carry and the Valiants were forced to settle for a field goal.

Sophomore Makenzee Cleveland-Aguirre - who also plays on the Valiants' girls soccer team -- came on to do the honors, and she split the uprights from 25 yards to give her team a 3-0 lead with 8:06 to go in the first quarter.

'It was great to get points on the board early,' Ierardi said. 'She has a strong leg and is pretty solid in the range from 20 to 25 yards.'

The Valiants held that lead too, until late in the opening quarter. They got sacks from Ben Klaas and Zack White to short-circuit Colton's next series, but when the Vikings got a stop of their own and took possession of the football with 2:02 left in the quarter, they needed only two plays to score.

Wilson went off-tackle for two yards on first down, and on second, quarterback Tyler Kelley found tight end Ethan Stansfield on a quick-hitter over the left side, and Stansfield got behind the Valiant defense and raced 81 yards to score. Kelley then connected with Jerod Jones on the conversion to provide his team with an 8-3 lead.

'That one tight end pop pass was it,' Walsh said. 'That was the only thing that beat us.'

'With the exception of one big play, we were able to pretty much hold the Colton offense in check,' Ierardi added.

While Valley Catholic wouldn't score again, there were some highlights along the way for the young Valiants, whose 23-player roster includes 13 freshmen and five sophomores. Among them were:

n Walsh took a fake punt around left end to pick up seven yards for a first down in the second quarter.

n The Valiants put together two first downs in three plays on a second-quarter drive, the first of those on Walsh's fake punt and the second on a 6-yard Kemper dive.

n Walsh took an option pitch from Prunty and sped around right end for 16 yards early in the third quarter for his team's longest offensive gain.

But VC's inability to sustain drives cost it dearly on Saturday, fueled in part by eight fumbles that led to three turnovers.

'The offense needs some more fine tuning,' Ierardi admitted. But 'we were able to run some plays very well, and were just a block away from some breakaway plays.'

The Valiant defense, meanwhile, was tough throughout. Valley forced three turnovers of its own (getting another interception from Kazuma Lane and a fumble recovery by Kemper), its effort highlighted by a thrilling goal-line stand at the end of the first half.

There, Valley Catholic had just snapped the ball over Walsh's head on a fourth-down punt attempt and Colton took over at the Valiant 2-yard line with 52 seconds left in the half. But Kelley managed just one yard on two sneaks, saw his third-down pass to Jones fall incomplete, then got sacked by Klaas and Conner Williams to end the half.

'On the first-and-goal (situation), we stuffed them every time,' Lane said. 'Then we forced them to throw and they still didn't score, which I'm real proud of.'

'Stopping them at the goal line -- that was the highlight for the defense,' Walsh said.

'We played tough defense,' Ierardi added. 'Our goal-line stand at the end of the first half gave us a great boost heading into the locker room.'

Kemper led VC with 38 yards rushing on 16 attempts, while Calvin Chester led Colton with six rushes for 30 yards.

On Friday, Valley Catholic will face Gaston at Tigard High School at 7 p.m.

To see a complete photo gallery from this game, please go to www.milesvance.exposuremanager.com.