By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
A slow start and offensive turnovers doomed the Sonora football team in its 31-13 playoff loss to Valencia in the first round of the CIF-SS Southwest Division playoffs, Friday night at Valencia High.
The Tigers put up 21 points and cruised to victory while Sonora lost a fumble on its opening possession and quarterback Kyle Mahlstede threw three second-half interceptions as the Raiders became one-dimensional.
“We didn’t come out with a good start and we dug ourselves a hole,” said Paul Chiotti, Sonora head coach. “I thought the kids did a good job of battling, but we just couldn’t find that one play to ignite us and Valencia’s a really good team, they’ve played great defense down the stretch.”
Valencia’s defense limited Sonora on the ground and Mahlstede threw 30 passes in the second half alone to try to make up the deficit.
The senior quarterback finished 18-of-38 for 261 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
“I’m really proud of Kyle, he’s a little guy, but he’s got a huge heart,” Chiotti said. “He made a lot of big plays for us, but when we became one-dimensional, they were able to dictate some things and they did a good job of making plays.”
However, the ground game offered little help. Matt Villasenor led the rushing attack, but was limited to 46 yards on 10 carries.
Brandon Rios had a one-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
On the game’s first possession, Sonora lost a fumble on a handoff and Valencia took over at the Sonora 33-yard line.
Three plays later, running back Levi Perez sprinted 25 yards untouched for a touchdown to give the Tigers an early lead.
One minute later, after a Sonora three-and-out, Perez again raced up the right side, this time for a 55-yard touchdown and Valencia had a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
On the ensuing possession, Mahlstede found Villasenor who slipped two tackles en rout to a 45-yard touchdown, but the extra point was blocked leaving the Raiders with a 14-6 deficit.
That would be as close as the Raiders got for the remainder of the contest. Valencia quickly increased the lead when quarterback Jesse Godoy scrambled 16 yards up the middle for a touchdown.
“Unfortunately, we came out flat and it’s tough to beat a team twice,” Chiotti said. “They were fired up, they played much better and they were able to make some holes on our defense and they scored quickly.”
Tigers’ kicker Jesse Gonzalez added a 47-yard field goal just before halftime to make it 24-6.
“We came out and put a few scores in, cashed in a turnover and I think that set the tone,” said Mike Marrujo, Valencia head coach.
An injury to Godoy early in the third quarter slowed down Valencia’s offense, but backup quarterback Matt Ruff heaved a ball toward the endzone and Jake Watkins outjumped Anusiem to come down with the 22-yard touchdown reception to make it 31-6.
Mahlstede led the Raiders downfield on their next possession, but threw an interception at the goal line.
Rios’ touchdown came with 8:01 left to play in the fourth quarter and two plays later, Alex Martinez recovered a fumble, giving the Raiders favorable field position.
But after Gonzalez sacked Mahlstede for a 12-yard loss, the senior quarterback tossed his second interception, this time by Watkins.
However, the Raiders forced a three-and-out and had another shot.
Mahlstede again led the charge, leading the Raiders from their own 13-yard line to the Valencia 16-yard line.
But Valencia’s Trent Salcedo undercut a route and dove for Mahlstede’s third interception of the half, sealing the victory for the Tigers.
“I’m very happy we won the game, the kids came out and executed and did a lot of good things,” Marrujo said.
As a team, the Tigers rushed for 276 yards. Tom Torres led Valencia with 97 yards on 12 carries, while Godoy added 89 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
With only four carries, Perez totaled 84 yards and scored twice.
Godoy completed eight-of-14 passes for 72 yards.
According to Chiotti, this is the first time Sonora has reached the playoffs for three consecutive years since the 1970s.
The Raiders finished the season 5-6, with a 3-2 mark in Freeway League play.
“Anytime you get to the playoffs it’s a successful season,” Chiotti said. “We would have loved to have won tonight, but this was a good season. They’re walking away with the knowledge that they are a winning team, this senior group. They’ve laid a foundation of expectation that Sonora is a playoff team.”