In a season that burst at the seams with highlights and big plays, there simply weren’t many for Aquinas’ football team Saturday night.
Instead, most of those belonged to Simi Valley Grace Brethren, which gave Coach Josh Henderson a CIF SoCal Division 2 A regional championship win over the team he previously led to two Southern Section titles with a 24 8 victory at Moorpark College.
Grace Brethren 13 2 advanced to face Mountain View St. Francis, a 28 23 winner over Manteca, in the state’s Division 2 A championship next week in Sacramento. Aquinas, which rolled easily to each of its 14 victories this season, lost for the first time since last year.
Junior running back Lontrelle Diggs led the Lancers with 85 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and freshman running back Seven McGee added 107 yards and a score on a blustery evening.
Aquinas senior running back Branden Rankins finished with 134 yards on 21 carries
, and just missed passing 3,000 yards for the year.
“I’m proud of them,” Rankins said of his team. “I’m glad I got this opportunity. It’s a once in a lifetime moment. I’m just glad I got to spend this time with the people I love most, and that’s my brothers.”
There were all kinds of storylines with this regional championship, starting with Henderson, who coached the Falcons to section titles in 2000 and 2005. His brother Jake is Aquinas’ defensive coordinator, and Falcons head coach Jordan Brusig was his quarterback in the early 2000s.
They were teams that know each other well and similarly rely on strong running games. But what stood out was the Grace Brethren defense
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, which showed a knack for flying to the ball and held an Aquinas offense averaging 50.7 points per game off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter.
“We have a bunch of youngsters out there running around, playing football and having a great time,” Josh Henderson said of the Lancers. “And I really think they do have a sense of purpose. They want this, and that showed tonight.”
Diggs led the charge for Grace Brethren, scoring on touchdowns runs of 13 and 2 yards in the first quarter. Grace junior Kevin Aranda added a 45 yard field goal in the second quarter. That gave the Lancers, who won the Southern Section’s Division 8 title last week in a 63 27 win over Lancaster Antelope Valley, a 17 0 halftime lead.
Aqiunas went three and out four times in the game and played without Colorado committed senior linebacker/tight end Joshka Gustav, who has a severe illness and stayed home.
The Falcons just couldn’t find a rythym.
“We just felt pretty off today,” Rankins said. “You know, off days just make the other team win, and they just had that advantage on us.”