SACRAMENTO — Former University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant once said, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.”
That’s what the defense of Vanden High School did Saturday afternoon in Sacramento.
Despite a shallow offense, the Vikings’ defense held strong, leading Vanden to a 10-6 win over Capital Christian for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title, their second championship in as many years. Vanden (12-1) has not lost since a regular-season contest against Vacaville in October.
The Vanden defense played so well on Saturday that the end zone they defended might as well have been Magna Carta – you could look at it, but you couldn’t touch it. Vanden forced Capital Christian to three turnovers and 11 plays for negative yards.
The biggest turnover came late in the fourth quarter from an interception by senior Devin Martin. With Capital Christian 10-6 behind and the ball at the Vikings 48, Martin intercepted a pass from Eddie Brusuelas. After the Vikings grabbed a first down on a run by Elijah Fisherman, Capital Christian — with no timeouts remaining — had no answers.
“Our defense played a fantastic game,” said Vanden head coach Sean Murphy. “They were really good with their running fits. They worked really well going down the line of scrimmage when Capital Christian tried to go outside.
Of Martin’s big defensive play, the senior linebacker said he read Brusuela’s eyes.
“Trust our coaches. You have to trust your tradition,” said Martin. “What we do is traditional – off the bus, after the bus, during the game, after the game, at half-time. My coach told me to do “this and that,” which in this case was go down in a three-pointer, sit down, watch the quarterback’s eyes, get the ball and take it to the end or to my team bring. I saw his eyes widen and I saw his eyeballs come my way.
“It was like a dream, man,” Martin continued, laughing. “You ask anyone on this team, they’ll tell you I’ve been dropping picks (interceptions) all year, so securing the win with a clutch pick like that made me very happy.”
In fact, Murphy said the last game Vanden played in his week-long practice was the exact same game, with the same result.
“Kind of a happy coincidence,” Murphy said.
Vanden’s senior quarterback Tre Dimes completed nine passes for 182 yards while rushing for another 16. He said this year’s title is a bit more special.
“I’ll be honest,” Dimes said. “I’ve loved both titles, but this one feels a little better because I’m a senior.”
All day Vanden had golden chances but was constantly sent back as if the Vikings didn’t have a permit for a field trip. Vanden started his first drive on the Cougars 2 after a 59-yard punt return from Brandon Chavez. However, the Vikings were unable to score as a poor snap over Dime’s head in fourth and the goal resulted in a Downs loss.
Later in the first quarter, Fe’la Guthrie Brusuelas snatched the ball away for the Vikings’ first game point. However, Vanden was unable to make anything of it and turned the ball over to Downs shortly after.
Vanden finally got on the scoreboard at 4:55 in the first half when Raheem Holt fired into the end zone from seven yards to make it 7-0 for Vikings.
The Vikings seemed to pick up momentum when Marcellus Chandler picked up Brusuelas two plays later and returned the ball to Capital Christian’s 28-yard line. The Vikings could only muster a 27-yard field goal from Rafael Ortiz Velez, but the three points made it 10-0.
Vanden had a hard time keeping the ball in the third. But the Viking defenses held strong. After a touchback, the Vikings were holding on for their lives, surviving a 13-game Capital Christian Drive. However, by the time the Vikings forced Dreshawn (Manu) Richardson to a two-yard loss on a run, Vanden had made another turnover on downs.
“We’re not rescuing an offense, we’re just helping them,” Martin said. “Every time the offense comes back, I say to Trey Dimes, ‘Hey, I’ve got your back.’ If they do something, we’ll get the ball back and bring it back to them. We’ve got each other’s backs. It’s about helping each other.”
Capital Christian’s Micah Hobson missed two field goals, including a 30-yarder in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars stuck further and finally scored with 6:07 left when Brusuela’s Kanye found Clark open for a 59-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 10-6 (the extra point was missed). Clark seemed open all game, finishing with a game-high 142 yards. Brusuelas had 237 passing yards but was intercepted twice, the second by Martin sealing the win.
Although the team celebrated together, the Vikings also thought of their former teammate Daniel Hughes, who was killed in a shootout in April 2021. During team pictures, the Vikings held up nine fingers for Hughes’ number.
“We lost a great child,” Martin said. “He’s looking down at us now and smiling. Ask anyone. He has the goofiest smile in all his pictures and I know he has one right now.”
The Vikings will wait and see if they are placed in a NorCal bowl game. The schedule will be published on Sunday afternoon.