The Apple Valley football team’s improbable season came to a disappointing end Saturday night.
In front of their home fans, the Sun Devils scored a lone field goal en route to a 31-3 defeat by Serra in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 title game.
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Serra won their first CIF-SS Division title in 2013 in their last appearance in the championship game.
This was Apple Valley’s first appearance in a CIF-SS title game in school history.
“I’ve never been more proud of a group of boys, a group of young men, than this group,” Apple Valley head coach Kyle Godfrey said.
The Sun Devils playoff run was unexpected from the start.
Apple Valley went into the playoffs without starting quarterback Jayden Denegal and starting running back Kaleb Most. Both went down with injuries against Oak Hills, knocking Denegal out for the playoffs, while Most returned against Serra, albeit in a limited role.
At running back, the team turned to a two-man split backfield between Samajay Andrews and Dustin Reynolds. Reynolds, reigning Mojave River defensive player of the year, had not played running back since freshman year but stepped up to the task during the playoffs.
At quarterback, the ball was given to sophomore Noah Celie who has mostly played wide receiver and safety this season.
The team started at the 16th seed in Division 3 with a new quarterback, new running backs, and a new offensive scheme to go up against some of the toughest teams in Southern California.
With the strength of the defense and some big plays by their offense, Apple Valley could buck the odds and keep winning. The Sun Devils beat Citrus Valley, Glendora, and Roosevelt to make it to the finals.
Unfortunately for them, that magic ran out against Serra.
“They’re missing their quarterback, their top running back was definitely hindered. I have so much respect for the way they played, to overcome everything that they’ve overcome,” Serra head coach Scott Altenberg said. “I would have loved to have played them perfectly healthy.”
The game was a strong defensive showing for both teams until the last three minutes of the first half, with the score just at 3-3. Apple Valley could not get their run game going while their defense was holding their ground against the air assault from Serra quarterback Maalik Murphy.
The last three minutes changed the whole nature of the game. Serra was able to block a punt from Apple Valley, which rolled to the back of the end zone for a safety. On the ensuing safety punt from Apple Valley, Serra’s Rodrick Pleasant returned the ball to the 7-yard line.
Serra then punched the ball in from there and scored the first touchdown of the game.
On Apple Valley’s next drive, a long pass from Celie was caught and then fumbled, which Serra picked up. As the Serra defensive back returned it, he fumbled the ball, which Apple Valley picked up. It was first down Apple Valley but 15 or so yards further back from where they started.
Almost immediately following this, a bad snap went over Celie’s head and into the end zone. Celie could do nothing but fall on it, which resulted in another safety.
The first half ended with Serra holding a 17-3 lead after scoring two safeties and a touchdown in just three minutes.
“We went to kick deep and had some bad coverage. Our defense had to step up to the best that they can do, but we can’t put them in spots like that,” Godfrey said. “Going into halftime, you’re down two touchdowns you say, ‘Let’s go, let’s get the offense moving,’ and we just couldn’t get that going tonight.”
The second half started promising enough for the Sun Devils as they forced a three-and-out on the Cavaliers' first drive, but that was it.
The Apple Valley offense could not get the ball moving throughout the second half, and Serra added two more touchdowns to seal the deal.
Godfrey says that this team showed resilience throughout their whole playoff run and that they will prepare to do it again with their group of young players they have.
This article originally appeared on Victorville Daily Press: Prep Football: Apple Valley falls flat against Serra in CIF-SS Div. 3 title game