Viking football goes down in history


Celeste Lira

During the CIF Finals game against La Serna on Dec. 1, Tristan Esparza, 11, and Jason Thomas, 10, attempt to catch the ball to prevent La Serna from scoring a touchdown. The Vikings were successful in blocking the opposing team from scoring and won the game 33-25.

Marilyn Ramirez, Copy Editor/Co-Editor-in-Chief

On Saturday Dec. 1, Downey varisty football defeated La Serna with a score of 35-27, becoming the newest CIF Champions. The school came together on the Cal State Fullerton field as alumnis and current students, family members in the stands, and even friends at home watching the game updates on Facebook or Fox Sports West. With over 2,100 tickets sold on campus alone and another 200 at the gate, the game was missed by few. Buses were offered to transport students and parents to the game.


Now, this wasn’t the first time football won a game in the finals. On a foggy night in 1957, the largest attendance at a high school football game in California of 45,000 people watched as Downey faced Anaheim at the L.A. Coliseum.


“I’ll always remember my dad talking about “the game that went down in history,” 1988 alumni Roger Romero said. “Now it’ll be my turn to tell my kids about the updated version.”


At the beginning of the season in August, La Serna defeated the Vikings 28-27 into overtime, and had only lost one game ever since. From the stands at the championship, no one forgot it.


“They have to win tonight; they just have to,” Downey fan Kristen Iles said. “The last game was just practice. To come all this way and lose… it’d be heartbreaking.”


Iles’ persistent attitude radiated towards the people around her. Loud and friendly, her and 2002 player Mark Bowers got the section around them up and yelling along with them, whether it was a touchdown or a tackle.


“I know my boys are going to make it,” Bowers said. “They’re getting the chance that I never did, so I hope they realize that when they win, they win for all the teams that didn’t.”


The question for the night persisted: could they do it? Could this team achieve what seemed impossible for 55 years?


The first half appeared to be the opposite. With the Lancers defense at its maximum, wide receiver Jacob Cook made the only touchdown, falling behind 13-7.


“It felt good but bad at the same time,” Cook said. “It pushed us but not by very much.”


It certainly was an angering half as well. With eight penalties on the Vikings, incomplete passes, and lack of tackles, it was only with Cook’s touchdown that kept their heads above the water. Even though sophomore running back Justin Huff started off the second quarter with a 37 yard gain, the minutes that followed proved troublesome. Junior Tristan Esparza missed a 40 yard pass at the end zone from quarterback Jorge Reyna, quickly followed by a missed punt that gave Lancers possession of the ball.


“They look tired,” Bowers said. “Something’s not working; whatever it is they better fix it and fast.”


There was a significant amount of faith in the commentary of former players and the other alumni present who knew more than the average person went in knowing. Did they look tired? If they did, then they were rejuvenated with the gods’ ambrosia-or the confidence from Esparza’s, Jeremy Villa’s, and Joey Romero’s pep talks in the locker room-and ran onto the field at the beginning of the third quarter with something that let fans know, It’s okay; we’re ready and here to win.


And with that, three minutes into the quarter, Reyna completed a flawless play. After Cook’s gain of five yards and Lancer’s hold on the fourth down, Reyna faked to the side and ran into the end zone.


“We’re back in business ladies and gentleman!” 1965 defensive back Herald Meyers said.


Downey’s quarterbacks completed their passes and stopped the penalties, but La Serna continued to find the holes in Downey’s defensive line. Team captain Robert Salazar, cornerback Jason Thomas, defensive end Chris Blanton, and Esparza shook off most the Lancer’s defense with tackles of their own, stopping one touchdown and pushing them out of bounds.


One of the four captains, Villa watched intently from the sidelines, even more so when the fourth quarter began 20-13. He fractured his tibia at the playoff game against Norwalk three weeks earlier.


“It sucked knowing I couldn’t finish off the season with my team,” the 2013 senior said. “I’m really proud of these guys and know they’re going to be the next champions.”


Champions indeed, as Huff scored the next touchdown, pushing Downey further ahead 27-13. Although he’s one of the younger team members, Huff has been the player to watch these last few games, even by attendees who haven’t seen a high school game in years.


“I haven’t been back at Downey since 2004,” Mel Sandrano said, “and one of the kids I’ve heard [the] most about is Huff. He and Reyna are the younger ones but are definitely worthy of being on this team.”


If he had the pleasure of meeting Huff, he’d see that it’s not only his playing skills that make him a Viking, but his attitude as well.


“I just wanted to win as a team,” Huff said. “I ignored the pressure of the press [saying I’m going to win the finals]. When I was younger, I was into myself more. But as I grew up, I realized it’s not just about me; it’s a team sport.”


The players had yet another factor to overcome in the final quarter with the incoming rain. Both the coaches and crowds were yelling from the sideline and the stands; phones and cameras were pointed at the field as they shot and recorded what would go down in history. The anticipation only built when a Lancer took a handoff into the endzone with only four minutes left of the game, advancing them 25-27. The unspoken thought was that with one more touchdown, that would be it. It’d be over.


Huff was the ball receiver in the next play, but was pushed back 7 yards by a tackle. A pass from Reyna to wide receiver Joshua Moreno ended incomplete. A 5 yard penalty to Downey completed the trifecta. Now with only three minutes on the clock, there was no time to be making those mistakes, which was loudly repeated by Bowers and his new band of followers.


And then it happened-the final touchdown. After making it two yards away from the end zone with two minutes to go, the Vikings’ golden helmets crashed against their Lancer adversaries as Huff raced his way through the side and scored the six points that inched them even closer to victory.


“I just remember everyone cheering and screaming, knowing that they were gonna win,” senior Lizbeth Garcia said. “I was even screaming. It was really exciting that it happened so perfectly like that.”


Once they switched to defense, the predestined champs continued to play defensively even though the game ended in the final minute with a fumble by La Serna on the Vikings’ 11-yard line.


“I grew up with these guys since my freshman year,” linebacker Kyle Hudspeth said, “and I’m grateful for making it this far with them. My hope is that they leave here knowing what they’ve accomplished and never forgetting that once a Viking, always a Viking.”


With the season over, the players shared their sentments of the expectations of next year, how seniors ended their final season of high school football with a bang, and the legacy they’ve set that will forever be remembered by the players, students, coaches, and families of the seasons to come.