The Amazin' Mauraders!

One of the most amazing turnarounds in football history reached a new height Saturday afternoon when Antelope Valley (9-0, 7-0) clinched its first Foothill Conference championship since 1987 with a 24-16 win over Chaffey (5-5, 4-4).

The Marauders, who had lost 26 consecutive games entering the season, are now one of just two undefeated teams in California.

In the final regular season game at Marauder Stadium prior to a massive renovation project, the AVC defense again was the difference. Middle linebacker Eric Leon had 17 tackles, including a sack. Daniel Ortiz had a sack, and he caused and recovered a fumble that led to a field goal. And Tyrell Wells had 8 tackles and a sack.

Not that there weren't some anxious moments for the large crowd on hand to see AVC clinch it first conference title in 20 years. After taking a 24-6 lead in the second quarter, the Marauders saw Chaffey cut the margin to just 8 points with 7:20 left in the game and advance to the AVC 24 in the final minutes. But the Marauder defense stopped the Panthers on fourth and one at the 24, turning the ball over on downs. And moments later, when AVC faced a fourth down of its own, punter Javi Navarro ran for 41 yards on a fake punt play to get the first down and allow the AVC offense to run out the clock.

AVC led virtually the whole way, taking a lead on its first possession of the game after putting together an 11-play, 75-yards drive. Aaron Wilson had an 18-yard run, Dominic Blood had a 22-yard run and Rodney Dorssette threw a 15-yard pass to Eddie Russ Jr. as the Marauders pieced together a well-balanced drive. Wilson carried the ball the final three yards to give AVC a 7-0 lead just 4:42 into the game.

Chaffey, however, answered with a long, time-consuming drive of its own to score the first points AVC has allowed in the first quarter all season. The strong running of Jammel Rover, following 300-pound guard Charlie Hoosier up the middle, and a pair of completions by quarterback Derrick Duran got Chaffey as far as the Marauder 12. There the drive stalled, however, and the Panthers had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Justin Veazie that made it 7-3.

After an AVC punt, Chaffey crept a little closer on another field goal by Veazie, this one from 34 yards out. That capped a 9-play, 34-yard drive and made it a one-point game at 7-6 early in the second quarter.

As the second quarter continued, however, Antelope Valley increased its lead and seemed to take complete control of the game. A 17-yard run by Wilson capped a short, 5-play drive and pushed the lead to 14-6. Then, after a missed 51-yard field goal attempt by Veazie (wide left – but it had the distance), AVC got the ball back and gave it to Blood. The freshman from Palmdale started left, and then cut back to the middle, bursting through the defense for a 61-yard touchdown run to make it 21-6.

The AVC defense created another scoring chance when Ortiz deflected an attempted pitchout by Duran, and then fell on the loose ball at the Chaffey 20. Three plays later, Navarro came on to kick a 28-yard field goal that made it 24-6, and it seemed there was nothing left for the AVC faithful to do except celebrate the win and the conference championship.

In the second half, however, the game got much closer. Antelope Valley was unable to add to its lead, and Chaffey inched a little closer on a 27-yard field goal by Veazie midway through the third quarter. That made it 24-9, but the Marauders still seemed to hold a comfortable lead when they had the ball and faced a 3rd and long with just over 8 minutes left in the game.

But on that third and long, Dorsette's pass was intercepted by Chaffey's Ryan Counce, and he returned it to the AVC 25. A defensive holding penalty on the next play moved the ball to the 15. Then came a 3-yard run by Rover. On the next play, Duran hit Aaron Mays with a 12-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-16 with 7:20 remaining.

With the momentum now on its side, the Chaffey defense rose to the occasion and quickly forced a Marauder punt after a 15-yard quarterback sack by Derek Walker. Navarro's punt went just 25 yards, giving the Panthers the ball at midfield. Then came a 17-yard run by Rover to the AVC 33, giving Chaffey a first down in scoring position with just under four minutes remaining.

The AVC defense, as it has done all season long, rose to the occasion. A 3-yard run by Rover got the ball to the 30. Then a short pass from Duran to Mays gained 6 yards to the 24. But on 3rd and 1, Rover was stopped for no gain at the 24. And on 4th and 1, the defensive line again held firm, stopping Duran on a quarterback sneak for no gain, turning the ball over on downs to the AVC offense with 2:29 left.

The Marauder offense, however, gained just 7 yards on three plays, and lined up to punt. Chaffey had used all of its timeouts on those three plays, but still had over two minutes left with which to put together a potential game-tying drive. Navarro dropped back to punt, and received the snap. And then he ran.

The 5-9, 200-pound Navarro had already inserted himself into what has become the legend of the Amazin' Marauders by picking up a loose ball on a botched field goal attempt in the team's first game of the year against West LA and throwing a touchdown pass. That play gave AVC a lead, which led to its first win since 2004, and began what eventually became an 8-game winning streak. Now, with the conference title on the line, the freshman kicker from Rosamond was in the spotlight again.

And again, Navarro came through with the big play. Running towards the left numerals, Navarro found a wide-open lane and raced down the field, past the first-down marker and across midfield. By the time he was finally tackled, he had gained 41 yards and the first down, and the Marauders were starting to celebrate their victory and the conference championship.

For a team to go from being 0-10 two consecutive years to the undefeated conference champions the next means there are a lot of heroes on the AVC side. First-year head coach Perry Jehlicka must be mentioned first. And Eric Leon has had a season for the ages at linebacker with 127 tackles on the season. Dorsette at quarterback, Wilson and Blood rushing the ball and leading receiver Terrance Shepard have all performed well, and the defense led by Leon, Wells, Ortiz and many more has been outstanding. And even kicking specialist Navarro has played a big role. In short, it has been a true team effort for AVC this season.

In this game, Blood led the way rushing with 106 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries while Wilson added 71 yards and 2 touchdowns on 16 attempts. Dorssette finished 7 of 16 for 101 yards. Russ led Marauder receivers with 3 catches for 55 yards.

For Chaffey, Rover led the way with 92 yards rushing on 19 carries, excellent totals against a team that had allowed more than 51 net yards rushing in a game only once this season. Duran finished 13 of 22 for 121 yards and a TD. And Mays had an outstanding game with 9 catches for 79 yards and a score.

With the win, Antelope Valley improves to 9-0 and will face Southwestern next week in its quest for the first unbeaten regular season at AVC since 1954. The Marauders already have their best regular season since 1975 and are assured of a playoff berth.

Chaffey finishes 5-5 overall and 4-4 in the Foothill Conference.

Antelope Valley Marauders 24
Chaffey Panthers 16

Saturday, November 3, 2007 – 1 pm – Marauder Stadium – Lancaster – Foothill Conference

1st Quarter:    
A – Wilson 3 yd run (Navarro kick) 10:18 (7-0)
C – FG Veazie 29 yds 4:47 (7-3)

2nd Quarter:   
C – FG Veazie 34 yds 14:24 (7-6)
A – Wilson 17 yd run (Navarro kick) 12:31 (14-6)
A – Blood 61 yd run (Navarro kick) 4:57 (21-6)
A – FG Navarro 28 yds 3:51 (24-6)

3rd Quarter:   
C – FG Veazie 27 yds 7:56 (24-9)

4th Quarter:
C – Mays 12 yd pass from Duran (Veazie kick) 7:20 (24-16)

Team Statistics: First Downs: Antelope Valley 14 (9 rush, 5 pass), Chaffey 17 (8 rush, 6 pass, 3 penalty)
Rushes-Yds: Antelope Valley 49-249, Chaffey 35-101
Passing Yds: Antelope Valley 101, Chaffey 121
Comp-Att-Int: Antelope Valley 7-16-1, Chaffey 13-22-0
Return Yds: Antelope Valley 43, Chaffey 141
Sacks-Yds: Antelope Valley 3-26, Chaffey 2-18
Fumbles-Lost: Antelope Valley 3-1, Chaffey 2-1
Penalties-Yds: Antelope Valley 7-60, Chaffey 4-15
Time of Possession: Antelope Valley 30:28, Chaffey 29:32

Individual Statistics:
Rushing: Antelope Valley7-Blood 11-106, 26-Wilson 16-71, 24-Littlejohn 4-37, 35-Navarro 1-35, 21-Smith 3-2, 6-Dorsette 10-2, 4-Russ 1-(-1), team 3-(-3); Chaffey 26-Rover 19-92, 22-Biggers 4-33, 5-Lewis 1-0, 80-Thompson 1-(-9), 17-Duran 10-(-15)
Passing:   Antelope Valley 6-Dorsette 7-16-1-101; Chaffey 17-Duran 13-22-0-121, 1 TD
Receiving:   Antelope Valley 11-Russ 3-55, 82-Hemmans 2-24, 85-Culver 2-22; Chaffey 12-Mays 9-79, 82-Allen 2-7, 80-Thompson 1-19, 81-Roma 1-16
Interceptions-Ret Yds: Antelope Valley none; Chaffey 6-Counce 1-34
Fumble Rec-Ret Yds: Antelope Valley 54-Ortiz 1-0; Chaffey 4-Thomas 1-0
Sacks-Yds: Antelope Valley 40-Leon 1-11, 54-Ortiz 1-8, 10-Wells 1-7; Chaffey 9-Walker 1-15, 50-Hope 1-3
Punters:   Antelope Valley 35-Navarro 5-35.8 avg; Chaffey 19-Veazie 4-37.8 avg
Kick Returns: Antelope Valley 2-Shepard 2-29, 28-Palmer 1-13; Chaffey 31-Ham 3-48, 6-Counce 1-14, 50-Hope 1-10
Punt Returns: Antelope Valley 11-Russ 1-1; Chaffey 80-Thompson 2-35
Missed FG: Chaffey 19-Veazie 51 yds (wide left)
Notes: AVC is now 9-0, 7-0 in the Foothill and clinches its first conference title since 1987 with this win!  AVC entered ranked #8 in the South (COA) and #20 in the nation (JC Grid-Wire). Chaffey finishes the season 5-5 overall and 4-4 in conference. Worst To First!  This is AVC's 9th straight win (they're one of just 2 unbeaten teams in California) after losing 26 straight 2004-05-06. 40-Leon had 17 tackles, including the sack. Veazie's 1st FG represented the first points AVC has allowed in the first quarter this season. AVC's FG came after Ortiz forced and recovered a Duran fumble on a pitchout. Chaffey's TD came after Counce's interception. Then AVC punted and Chaffey reached the Marauder 24 before being stopped twice for no gain and turning the ball over on downs. Moments later AVC faced a 4th down but Navarro ran for the first down on a fake punt play to seal the win. This was the last regular-season game at the “old” Marauder Stadium & its natural grass.

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