It might not have been the result that they had envisioned, but the St. Bernard High School Vikings knew what it took for them to challenge for the Del Rey League championship this season.
The Vikings had battled their way to an undefeated record in league play this year before their run was ended in a 37-7 loss to the visiting Serra High School Cavaliers in the league title game Friday, November 9th.
Serra (9-1, 5-0) was also undefeated in league play heading into the match-up and proved to be too much to handle for St. Bernard (6-4, 4-1), as the Cavaliers earned their first league crown in four years.
But the Vikings had experienced a major transformation in reaching the league championship game, after they finished with a 2-8 record just two years ago and a 3-8 record last season. The team equaled last year’s win total of three in the sixth week of this season.
While St. Bernard came up short in its bid for a league title, coach Greg Dixon said he is proud of the Vikings’ improvement and work ethic over the last few years that enabled them to contend for the league trophy.
“It means a lot to the program and to the kids who put in the time and effort over the last four years,” Dixon said of reaching the league championship game.
The players were also pleased to see that their drive to improve paid off by helping them become one of the league’s best.
“It shows that our team really wanted to work for it,” St. Bernard junior quarterback Malcolm Mitchell said of getting to the league finals. “Now we have to move on.”
By finishing second in the Del Rey League, St. Bernard earned a home game against Pioneer League runner-up North Torrance High School in the first round of the Southern Section playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 16th.
In the game against Serra, the Cavaliers came out on fire in the first quarter, capitalizing on two early Viking turnovers on the way to a 16-0 lead.
Serra held a 30-0 lead by halftime and added another touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach for St. Bernard.
But the Vikings wouldn’t let the game finish without putting some points on the scoreboard. Mitchell, who stepped in for injured starting quarterback Ryan Simpson in the middle of the second quarter, connected with junior Kreli Washington for a 23-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds to cut the score to 37-7.
Mitchell, who finished eight-of-18 passing for 101 yards, said the Vikings needed to continue on their game plan despite losing the injured Simpson, their “team captain and leader,” before halftime.
St. Bernard struggled early on offense with two turnovers in their first two possessions, both of which resulted in Cavalier scores.
First it was a fumbled hike into the end zone that led to a safety by Serra. After the Cavaliers got their first touchdown on a one-yard run by junior Carl Winston, they got the ball back when Robert Woods intercepted a Simpson pass.
The play set up another touchdown on a seven-yard run by running back Lawrence Tuihalamaka to give Serra a 16-0 lead at 6:30 in the first quarter.
Dixon acknowledged that the early turnovers allowed the Cavaliers to get an early jump in the game.
“Against a team like Serra, you can’t do that,” Dixon said. “They got after it a little more than we did.”
The Vikings got a second chance in their ensuing drive when they recovered a fumbled punt reception by Serra at the 40-yard line.
But kicker Steven Locke’s attempt at a 45-yard field goal failed, keeping the Vikings scoreless early in the second quarter.
The troubles continued for the St. Bernard offense later in the quarter, as the Cavaliers scored after recovering another Viking fumble and Simpson left the game with an injured ankle. Serra’s two touchdowns in the quarter came off passes of 45 and 19 yards by junior quarterback Ted Landers.
The Vikings held the Cavaliers scoreless in the third quarter with strong defense, including a fumble recovery and a sack of Landers on fourth down, but St. Bernard was unable to capitalize on the plays.
Serra managed to add one last touchdown on a 19-yard run by Tuihalamaka early in the fourth quarter, before St. Bernard was able to close out with its only score of the night.
Ryan Richard finished with eight carries for 62 yards rushing for the Vikings.
The Cavaliers were led by Winston, who finished with 20 carries for 227 yards rushing.
As his team heads for the playoffs in a “tough division,” Dixon said he hopes the Vikings will rebound from the league championship defeat and take it out on the post season.
“I’d like to see them bounce back,” the coach said.