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Loss Is Bitter Ending for Orange Lutheran


COSTA MESA — One of the longest, if not the longest, county prep seasons ended Saturday, with the Southern Section Division X championship game between Orange Lutheran and Cerritos Valley Christian.

And for Valley Christian it was an especially sweet victory, 21-17, in front of about 6,000 at Orange Coast College.

The Crusaders were not even supposed to be here Saturday. The Lancers were supposed to meet Rosamond, which defeated Valley Christian, 45-10, in the semifinals last week in Antelope Valley.

But Rosamond was removed from the playoffs after it was discovered one of its coaches had altered the game videotape it had given Orange Lutheran.

The Crusaders, who began the playoffs as the top-seeded team, reformed this week after being reinstated. And they won a thriller, on a four-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Saarloos to Keith Van Essen with 13 seconds left. Saarloos finished 13 of 27 for 146 yards passing.

It brought Valley Christian (12-2) back from deficits of 10-0 at halftime and 17-14 in the fourth quarter. Like everything else about this week, Valley Christian did it the hard way, driving 78 yards with two minutes left and no time outs.

Van Essen, who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter for Valley Christian's first points, called the Crusaders' return to the playoffs "a rebirth."

"We couldn't believe we got to play football again," Van Essen said. "And to win the title is a dream. I hope that's how people will recognize the boys' athletics here for a change."

For Orange Lutheran, the taste was bitter. This was the second consecutive season the Lancers have reached the section finals. Last year, they lost to Montclair Prep, 53-13. And it was their second loss this season to Valley Christian; the Crusaders defeated the Lancers, 36-31, in November to win the Olympic League title. Ironically, the winning touchdown then (a 24-yard run from Kenchasa Amos) came on the game's final drive.

"This hurts much more than last year," Orange Lutheran Coach Jim Kunau said. "But Valley deserves all the credit. They had poise and the execution at the end."

Orange Lutheran running back Che Holloway, who led all rushers with 111 yards but did not score, said the loss did not diminish the Lancers' 10-4 season.

"To get to the championship game two years in a row with the teams we had, on paper at least, is unbelievable in itself," Holloway said.

Orange Lutheran dominated the first half, but had only 10 points to show for it.

The Lancer offensive line repeatedly carved out gaping holes in the Crusaders' defensive front, enabling Holloway and Cook to run freely. The two combined for 127 yards rushing in the half. Orange Lutheran quarterback Nick Odenath added 28 yards on the ground and 29 yards passing.

Cook opened the scoring on Orange Lutheran's first possession, bursting through the Valley Christian defense for an 11-yard touchdown to put the Lancers ahead, 6-0.

On their next possession, the Lancers burrowed their way from the 20 to the Valley Christian eight before the drive stalled. Josh Nelson booted a 25-yard field goal.

Orange Lutheran's most impressive drive--13 plays, taking 8:50 off the clock--yielded no score because Odenath was sacked for a 10-yard loss by Mike Fish. Holloway got five of those yards back, setting the ball on the Crusaders' 30, but Ben Willits' 49-yard field-goal attempt was about a yard short.

Valley Christian, on the other hand, had a difficult time eliminating the rust.

Amos had only 14 yards rushing (ending up with 74) and Saarloos was four of nine for 38 yards and an interception, but the offense as a unit had recorded only three first downs to 11 for Orange Lutheran.

The Crusaders took their first lead on a one-yard run by Michael Cunningham with 8:44 to play in the fourth quarter. But 83 seconds later, Orange Lutheran scored on a one-yard run by Willits.

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