SAN JOSE — The football gods weren’t kind to St. Ignatius on Friday, and the Valley Christian Warriors weren’t in a forgiving mood.
With two of their top offensive playmakers and two of their top defenders slowed by the stomach flu and injuries piling up throughout the night, the Wildcats saw their magical season come to an end with a 28-7 loss in the CCS Division I Semifinals.
By the end of the game, the visiting sideline looked like a hospital ward. Record-setting wide receiver Danny Ryan was throwing up throughout the night and the situation was hardly better for running back Joe Celentano, linebacker Jafer Snipes and cornerback Reade Hansen. If that wasn’t enough, star quarterback and linebacker Teddye Buchanan went down with a foot injury in the second quarter, running back Jahsai Shannon hardly saw the field after pulling a hamstring a week before and linebacker Siaki Gallegos-Hunkin and two-way lineman Beau Gardner both suffered ankle injuries in the second half.
Strong efforts by Gallegos-Hunkin, backup QB Zach Taylor-Smith and tight end James Adams kept St. Ignatius (9-3) afloat for a while, but the injuries were too much to overcome. Even had the Wildcats not been severely hobbled throughout the game, it would have taken a near-perfect effort to knock off a Warriors team that put together an outstanding game for a third consecutive week.
Valley Christian’s running back triumvirate of Isaiah McElvane, Michael Corini and Chase Laubach combined for 265 yards, and though the Warriors threw just seven times, quarterback Cory Taylor completed five of those passes, including a 38-yard score to freshman Jurrion Dickey for the game’s opening touchdown. He also found McElvane over the middle for a gain of 36 in the second quarter to set up Corini’s first touchdown.
Leading 14-7 at halftime, Valley Christian (11-1) came out firing in the third, getting a 13-yard Laubach run and a 40-yard McElvane carry to enter the red zone. Three straight Corini carries, including a three-yard touchdown, reopened a two-score lead for the home side as the fullback broke tackles on seemingly every run throughout the evening.
Coming back from down two scores against a team that had only surrendered multiple touchdowns with its first-string defense once all year would have been hard enough for a healthy SI team, but with so much of the team slowed, it was all but impossible.
A 31-yard catch by Ryan sparked some hope for the visitors, but a deep pass on third-and-22 was picked by Valley’s Kavir Bains. The teams traded punts on their following drives, with Kealan O’Connell delivering one of his best kicks of the year, a 56-yarder to pin the Warriors at their own four, but the second-seeded Warriors followed by unleashing a demoralizing 12-play, 96-yard drive to seal St. Ignatius’ fate, moving the entire length of the field without a single play of more than 16 yards.
The Wildcats absorbed a few more blows in the final minutes, as Marcelo Villavicencio, on the field for the final time as a senior after missing the first three-plus quarters with a back injury, broke his hand, and a questionable call deprived Taylor-Smith — who hit Mike Harrison for a 12-yard score before halftime to cut the lead to seven — of one last touchdown.
SI students, parents and fans filled the visiting bleachers at Valley Christian, making the two-hour trek in a caravan of carpools and a rooter bus. They sang that fight song with the team as they had after every game throughout a memorable year in which the Wildcats captured a share of their first WCAL title since 2006.
“SI football has changed my life,” said the UCLA-bound Gardner. “It’s done so much for me and I’ve tried to do everything I can for it, but I can’t repay as much as it’s done for me.”
“I’m gonna miss these guys,” added Ryan, who had 69 yards on a season-low two receptions, a combination of his stomach problems and tight coverage from Warriors cornerback Deven Vanderbilt.
With Ryan covered, Adams was able to make the most of his opportunities with four catches for 60 yards, including a 28-yard reception on a flea flicker from Taylor-Smith as the Wildcats pushed for one final score. Ryan had caught a pass that deflected off Vanderbilt’s fingertips for a 38-yard reception on the prior play, but on fourth-and-goal, Taylor-Smith was called shy of the pylon despite appearing to have reached across the goal line.
It was just that kind of night.