East County Sports

Norsemen quick to distance from “18”

2019 EAST COUNTY PREP FOOTBALL

VALHALLA 24, WEST HILLS 14

 

By Jim Lindgren

Special to EastCountySports.com

 

SANTEE – Kegan Baker remembers all too well the lows and woes of the past two football seasons at Valhalla, which culminated in 18 straight losses.

So his ear-to-ear smile on Friday night was surely and purely genuine. And well deserved.

A 5-foot-8, 185-pound senior, Baker rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Norsemen to a come-from-behind 24-14 victory over West Hills on Friday night for their second win of the 2019 season.

“We had a lot of doubters, and we feed off that,” Baker said. “This is a different team. We’ve got a great senior class, and everyone believes we can win every week.”

After a 2-9 campaign in 2017, the Norsemen finished 0-10 last year and scored only 68 points while yielding 392.

They reached half of their point total from 2018 in last week’s 34-20 win over University City when Baker rushed for 265 yards and five touchdowns.

After trailing 14-7 at halftime Friday against West Hills (1-1), Valhalla (2-0) scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to beat a West Hills team that won eight straight games last year and finished 8-3.

“That’s something we haven’t seen the last couple years,” Baker said. “Building off that energy and coming back to win. It feels amazing.”

Baker set a school record with 363 rushing yards in a 42-21 loss to El Capitan last year and gained over 1,000 yards en route to earning All-Grossmont Hills League first-team honors. He now has 468 yards and eight TDs in two games this summer.

He also carries a 4.5 GPA in the classroom, so he’s bright enough to realize the Norsemen still have a lot of work to do.

“It’s supposed to be a rebuilding year,” Baker said. “We’re coming out differently, that’s for sure.”

West Hills coach Casey Ash knew the task-at-hand was limiting Baker.

“All eyes on No. 23,” Ash said before the game. “He’s a good one. We’re going to have to control the ball and limit his chances.”

After the game, Ash said, “He’s fairly slippery. He does a good job of slipping through the line and finding space. He’s just fast enough. He’s just big enough. He’s tough to control.”

Baker’s offensive line is also pretty good. Led by Anthony Steven (5-8, 230), Allen Kalasho (6-4, 250) and Samer Faraj (6-2, 211), the formidable front allowed Valhalla to rush for 271 yards with Ray Sanchez picking up 47 yards on nine carries. Quarterback Luke Pillsbury gained 21 yards on five carries before taking a knee (and loss) on the final three plays.

“Our offensive line was great in the second half,” Valhalla coach Mike Kastan said. “They told us at halftime what was working and what would continue to work, and we ran with that.”

West Hills got the breaks and largely controlled the game in the first half.

The Wolf Pack took advantage of a poor punt and marched 42 yards in seven plays with their first possession, taking a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard touchdown by Jake Maheu midway through the first quarter. The big play on the drive was an 18-yard pass from Gerardo Hernandez to Kole Klingerman, who finished with six catches for 72 yards.

Moments later, Kip Klingerman intercepted a pass at the Norsemen 29-yard line. A holding penalty set West Hills back, and the Wolf Pack turned it over on downs.

Valhalla answered with its best drive of the half, going 77 yards on 11 plays and tying the score on a 16-yard scamper by Baker off left tackle in which the shifty back slipped at least two tackles to score.

Late in the first half, a West Hills punt was muffed by the Norsemen and recovered by Steven Cristini at the 31-yard line. Five plays later, the Wolf Pack went up 14-7 with 0:05 on the clock on a 2-yard score by Maheu, who finished with 100 rushing yards on 19 carries.

“We felt pretty good at halftime,” Ash said. “But they did a good job in the second half. You turn it over twice like we did, and that’s hard to overcome.”

Valhalla got its first big break on the opening kickoff of the second half as Laith Adnan recovered a fumble at the Wolf Pack 33-yard line.

A decent drive moved the ball to the 4-yard line, but Valhalla had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Anthony Hernandez, a senior kicking for the first time in a varsity game.

Late in the third quarter, Valhalla took it first lead after a four-play, 67-yard drive highlighted by a 54-yard run by Baker that set up his 2-yard TD for a 17-14 lead.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Valhalla got a fumble recovery by Bashar Nooh at the 35-yard line, and the Norsemen marched 65 yards in nine plays for the final score, a 1-yard plunge by Baker.

As West Hills attempted a comeback, Valhalla responded with sacks by Ethan Ferkich and Adnan and a batted pass at the line by Kalasho.

The Norsemen took their final possession down to the 7-yard line, but Kastan elected to run out the clock.

“We have 19 seniors who have really worked hard to turn this program around,” said Kastan, now in his second season as head coach after serving as an assistant for several years. “This senior class didn’t win a game last year or the year before (on an 0-10 JV team).

“They have an attitude now. It doesn’t matter what the score is, we’re going to come back. There is no quit in these guys.”

As for West Hills, a team that played for the Grossmont Valley League championship in the final game last year, the numbers are low this season. The Wolf Pack suited only 23 players on Friday with a number of them having to go both ways.

“Our margin for error is pretty thin,” Ash said. “And we made a couple of mistakes that cost us.”

West Hills will take to the road next week with a game at Santa Fe (0-2), a Southern Section school in Santa Fe Springs.

Valhalla has a bye next week before traveling to Hilltop (2-0) in Chula Vista.

VALHALLA 24, WEST HILLS 14

Valhalla    0 7 10 7 – 24

West Hills  7 7  0 0 – 14

WH – Jake Mahout 3 run (Luke Bethune kick)

– Kegan Baker 16 run (Anthony Hernandez kick)

WH – Jake Maheu 2 run (Luke Bethune kick)

– FG Anthony Hermandez 26

– Kegan Baker 2 run (Anthony Hernandez kick)

– Kegan Baker 1 run (Anthony Hernandez kick)

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