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Speed thrills as Valencia grabs share of Empire title
ANAHEIM – Speed very well may kill, but it also proved to be the key ingredient in Valencia High’s newfound life.
With a pair of seasons hanging in the balance on Friday night, it’s all a matter of perspective when considering how Jahquon Speed capped the regular season.
The Tigers senior running back racked up a career-high 358 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries, leading Valencia to a thrilling 28-26 victory over Cypress in an Empire League game at Western High.
On the backs of Speed and the offensive line, Valencia (4-6, 4-1) captured a share of the Empire League title with Tustin (8-2, 4-1) and also likely qualified for the Division 4 playoffs despite opening the season with an 0-5 record.
“The players, the coaches, the boosters, the community – everybody has been so supportive,” Tigers coach Shawn Racobs said. “Considering the situation we were in, these kids kept fighting back each and every week. They improved every week and they hung in there. The most important thing that they did was believe in themselves.”
“I would think being a league champion we’d be in the playoffs. Who we’re going to play or where we’re going? I have no idea.”
While the Tigers celebrated on one side of the field, there was a noticeable sense of uncertainty on the Cypress sideline just minutes after it nearly erased a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit.
The Centurions (6-4, 2-3) dropped to fourth place in league with the loss, and will have to wait to see if their name is called Sunday as an at-large team in Division 9.
“I think we’ve done enough to get in,” Cypress coach Rick Feldman said. “Our league is a lot tougher than people think. Based on the way it looks, I like our chances of getting in, but I’m not counting on it because you never know.”
The Centurions had no answer for Speed, who accounted for all but 21 of the Tigers’ yards. Valencia led, 28-13, at halftime.
Cypress quarterback Alex Ashcraft tossed a 27-yard TD pass to Cameron Repetti with 7:46 to play, cutting the deficit to eight. The Centurions’ gritty 5-foot-6 signal caller later capped a nine-play, 84-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard keeper, putting his squad within a 2-point conversion of overtime.
Ashcraft’s pass attempt on the ensuing conversion sailed just past the outstretched arms of Noah Zuzuarregui, sending the Valencia sideline into a frenzy with one minute left on the clock.
“Obviously this one stinks,” Feldman said. “We could’ve gone in the tank and said we’re going to lose. But they fought back all the way to the last second. I could be happier, but I can’t be prouder.”
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