By Matt Lechuga 
For The Signal

For the first time in 12 years there is a new champion atop the Foothill League after the Saugus Centurions held on 21-7 to defeat host Valencia and end the condensed season with a perfect record.

Pandemic or not, there’s no asterisk next to this title and the emotions it brings. As the clock hit triple zeroes, the Saugus sideline erupted, senior quarterback Colton FitzGerald and senior receiver Hunter Girch doubled over in emotion, hands on their heads, soaking up the moment.

“It’s a big win for the program, a big win for the community,” said Centurions head coach Jason Bornn. “When the pandemic hit, we stayed engaged with our kids. That’s the only thing that kept this team together is that we stayed engaged. Google meetings, Zoom workouts, we went through the whole rigmarole in the fall where we were just doing conditioning workouts and social distancing. But until someone tells me, ‘It’s over, it’s done,’ we’re just not going to quit. Then when the decision was made, we just put it together and played.”

Valencia High running back Daniel Hernandez (32) fends off Saugus High defender Cody Collier (5) as Hernandez scores at Valencia High School on Friday, 041621. Dan Watson/The Signal

Saugus and Valencia traded early turnovers in the first quarter when, after a Viking punt, the Saugus returner called a fair catch but missed the ball, allowing the Vikings to recover. Saugus righted that mistake almost immediately, however, when two plays later the Centurions stripped Duhron Goodman and recovered the fumble.

Capitalizing on the turnover, Saugus went on a seven-play drive capped by a 40-yard strike down the middle of the field from FitzGerald to Girch to give the Centurions an early 7-0 lead.

The Vikings tied the game in the second quarter when sophomore running back Daniel Hernandez broke through the right side of the line for a 17-yard score. Neither team was able to get much traction offensively for the rest of the half.

Coming out to start the second half, Saugus (5-0) dominated the ball and the clock with a 17-play drive that didn’t result in points but kept the Valencia offense off the field. After a quick Vikings possession that ended in a punt, Saugus went on an eight-play drive that was capped when FitzGerald hit Khai Ky-yeith on a corner route, extending the lead to 14-7.

Saugus High wide receiver Hunter Girch (7) runs away from Valencia High defender Brandon Thompkins (2) to score at Valencia High School on Friday, 041621. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Centurions were able to put the game out of reach after a bad Valencia snap on its next possession gave Saugus the ball on its own 19-yard line. Nine plays later FitzGerald hit tight end Dario Sandoval from 6 yards out for the final score of the game.

“Last year we were in a situation where it looked like we weren’t playing,” said FitzGerald. “This team fought, and we never gave up. Not giving up was the reason why we could do this. To end my mark with this, to leave Saugus with the Foothill League championship, is awesome.”

Valencia High defenders Jake Stauffer (13) and Giorgio Spiropoulos (22) recover a fumble by Saugus High’s Cody Collier (5) at Valencia High School on Friday, 041621. Dan Watson/The Signal

Valencia (4-1) kept fighting, putting together its longest drive of the game that ended on a fourth and goal attempt from the 17-yard line when quarterback Tyler Voss scrambled for the endzone but was brought up short.

“There’s so much to be grateful for, just getting a season in,” said Vikings head coach Larry Muir. “I think that was the story of our season in that it took us a while to figure out our rhythm. We just couldn’t find a way to make it happen.”