East County Sports

Wolf Pack defeat Norsemen to advance

West Hills senior Jake Maheu is sent tumbling on Friday. / photo by Rob Riingen

The ball is loose during the West Hills-Valhalla playoff game on Friday night. / photo by Rob Riingen





EastCountySports.com staff report


EL CAJON – Steven Cristini provided the spark as West Hills scored three third-quarter touchdowns to defeat Valhalla, 21-14, in the first round of the San Diego Section Division III playoffs on Friday.


Cristini recovered a squib kick to open the second half that led to the first score, a 21-yard pass from Gerardo Hernandez to Kole Klingerman. Later in the third quarter, Cristini intercepted a pass that led to the third score, his score, the game-winner, on a 13-yard pass from Kole Klingerman.


That was enough to give the No. 9-seeded Wolf Pack (7-4) their first playoff win since 2014, snapping a five-game playoff losing streak. No. 8 seed Valhalla (4-7) had beaten West Hills, 24-14, in Week 2 and was seeking its first playoff win since 2015.


West Hills senior Steven Cristini makes a big play on Friday night. / photo by Rob Riingen

Which play did Cristini enjoy the most?


“To be honest, it was probably the onside (squib) kick,” Cristini said. “It changed the whole game. After I dove on that ball, everything just switched. Everything clicked from there.”


Valhalla had taken a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard touchdown pitch run by Josh Meredith, and that’s the way the first half ended.


Cristini, who normally doesn’t play on kickoff coverage, was put in particularly for the squib kick by Otto Geinlenfeldt, who lofted the kick over Valhalla’s front line. The ball skipped downfield past a Valhalla player, and Cristini pounced on it at the 29-yard line.


Two plays later, Hernandez threw over the middle to a wide-open Klingerman for a 21-yard TD to tie the game at 7.


The West Hills defense then held on downs as Austin Ruiz-Castaneda had a big sack and a tackle for loss, and Brenden Greene made it 14-7 West Hills with a 3-yard touchdown run.


On Valhalla’s next possession, Cristini intercepted a pass and returned it 18 yards.


Moments later, Klingerman, normally a wide receiver but lined up as a QB in the shotgun, took the snap and the lefty heaved a pass that Cristini gathered for the 13-yard TD that gave West Hills a 21-7 lead.


West Hills senior quarterback Gerardo Hernandez throws a pass on Friday night. / photo by Rob Riingen

“I don’t know if it was our best game of the year, but it was our best quarter,” coach Casey Ash told the Union-Tribune. “That was pretty special.”


Meredith, a Helix transfer who finished with 105 rushing yards, scored his second touchdown on a 9-yard run in the fourth quarter, but West Hills hung on for the victory.


Kegan Baker added 93 rushing yards for Valhalla to put him over 1,400 yards for the season. Baker had 203 yards and three TDs in Valhalla’s earlier win over West Hills.


For West Hills, Jake Maheu rushed 17 times for 53 yards, and Braden Oberg added 37 yards on only two carries. Hernandez was 8-of-12 passing for 81 yards and a TD. Klingerman caught 5 passes for 56 yards and a TD. Cristini nabbed three balls for 38 yards.


Klingerman’s TD reception was his 12th of the season, and his TD toss was his second. Cristini picked up his fourth interception of the season, and his second TD reception was huge.


West Hills was shut out in the first round of the playoffs last year, 25-0, by Imperial to finish 8-3. The Wolf Pack lost to Granite Hills, 35-10, to end 2017 at 6-5. They lost to Bonita Vista, 27-10, in 2016 to finish 5-6. They lost to Christian, 34-20, in 2015 to end 5-6.


The Wolf Pack’s last playoff win came in 2014, a 41-27 win over Imperial. Brawley then beat West Hills in the quarterfinals, 29-13.


West Hills scores a touchdown in the third quarter on Friday night in the San Diego CIF Division III playoffs. / photo by Rob Riingen

Valhalla was 0-10 last year with an 18-game losing streak before winning its first two games this season. The Norsemen went 1-4 in the tough Grossmont Hills League but next season will move to the Grossmont Valley League with West Hills and five others teams.


With its big win Friday, West Hills moves on to the quarterfinals where they will play No. 1 seed Scripps Ranch (10-0). The Falcons and The Bishop’s School in Division II are the only undefeated teams remaining in the section.


“Scripps Ranch is a great team,” Cristini said. “We’re just going to have to get to work right away. We’ll hit film tomorrow and get ready for Scripps.”




West Hills    0 0 21 0 – 21

Scripps Ranch 7 0  0 7 – 14

V – Josh Meredith 6 run (Anthony Hernandez kick)

WH – Kole Klingerman 21 pass from Gerardo Hernandez (Otto Geinlenfeldt kick)

WH – Brenden Greene 3 run (Otto Geinlenfeldt kick)

WH – Steven Cristini 13 pass from Kole Klingerman (Otto Geinlenfeldt kick)

V – Josh Meredith 9 run (Anthony Hernandez kick)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *