By enrollment, Chatsworth Sierra Canyon is small, but it came up huge Friday night in the Division IV CIF state championship bowl game, scoring 20 unanswered points in less than nine and a half minutes in the third quarter to beat Le Grand, 34-13, at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
Junior Xavier Menifield rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns in 18 carries for the Trailblazers (15-0), who reached the pinnacle in their third season as an 11-man program after two years at the 8-man level.
Menifield's first score on a 41-yard run gave the Trailblazers a 14-13 lead with 4:11 left in the second quarter, and that was the score at halftime.
Reggie Prince's interception on the first play of the second half gave Sierra Canyon the ball at Le Grand's 26-yard line, and the Trailblazers needed four plays to capitalize, scoring on Danny Jordan's seven-yard run to increase their lead to 21-13. Menifield capped Sierra Canyon's next drive with a two-yard run to push the margin to 27-13, and he tacked on a seven-yard touchdown run to close out the scoring with 1:35 left in the third quarter.
"We'd never seen them before so it took us awhile to adjust to what they were doing," Menifield said. "They played us tough early on, but after D.J. scored, you could see their enthusiasm just dipped. That was the turning point."
Sierra Canyon's defense also recovered two fumbles in the second half, including one at its own 11-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, to shut down a team that entered the game averaging 58.5 points per game.
"We didn't play the greatest game in the first half, but in the second half, the offensive line did an amazing job giving me time, and we ran our offense like we always do," said Sierra Canyon quarterback Tyler Stewart, who completed 13 of 25 passes for 163 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "We knew what we wanted to do this whole year, we took it one game at a time, and we accomplished our goal."
Prince caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Stewart on Sierra Canyon's first drive to give the Trailblazers a 7-0 lead, capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive. Le Grand (12-1) answered on Dustin Slate's eight-yard run to pull within one point, at 7-6, with 6:05 left in the first quarter, but the extra point was missed.
Julian Nava's five-yard touchdown run gave Le Grand a 13-7 lead with 48 seconds left in the first quarter, completing a 10-play, 62-yard drive.
Le Grand, the only high school in an agricultural town of 1,650 people 30 miles southeast of Merced, has fielded a football team since the 1920s but didn't win its first section title until last season.
The Bulldogs repeated as Sac-Joaquin Section champions this season behind 2,000-yard rusher Daniel Guizar, who was held to 68 yards in 14 carries.
"People said we were the underdogs because they're bigger, but we've won league three years in a row, and we're back-to-back CIF champs, so we didn't feel that way," Le Grand quarterback Alex Bucio said. "Our fans always show up to support us, so it's no surprise we had the bigger crowd. We had to minimize our mistakes, and we didn't do that."