Defense leads CHS to championship
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
If one word could sum up Claremont High School football’s season it would be zero.
Claremont gave up zero points, delivering three shutouts in San Antonio League play, culminating with the championship game Friday night. That actually deserves repeating. In three consecutive games, the Pack’s defense did not allow so much as a simple field goal. And after 17 years of zero titles, Claremont can once again be called champions.
Zero was also the perceived chance that the season would happen at all. Just four months ago as the coronavirus raged, all sporting events were on the permanent canceled list. Each week that passed, the logistics of pulling a full season together grew dimmer. But the rapid retreat of the virus, and a revised health order for the state, gave CIF officials the window they needed.
Over the last year, Coach Shane Hile had to start and stop practice four times by his estimation. But his team never gave up and each time they were allowed to resume training, the boys were ready.
“It’s just a great group, they did not lose focus or lose interest when we would start and stop start and stop. We finally got the word that it was going to happen, and they were just ready to go, Coach Hile said. We were fortunate the school district was very supportive of us and every chance that we could come back and try to lift or condition they would do it. For us, it was amazing.”
The Wolfpack’s title was sealed Friday night with a stunning 38-0 victory over Chaffey in front of a small but enthusiastic home crowd. The Tigers never had a chance against Claremont as the Pack scored three touchdowns in the first quarter alone. The boys went on to nab two more touchdowns and a field goal before the clock finally ran out.
The boys’ season was almost perfect, beginning with a shutout against Chino Hills. However, they did lose a non-league game to San Dimas and exit the year with a 4-1 record overall.
“It just shows these guys have the resolve and they never quit,” Coach Hile said. “They have been through so much this last 13 or 14 months, and they stuck together the whole time. They were focused, they never wavered and they said if we get a season we are going to be ready to go.”
Both teams came to Friday’s game with 2-0 league records, so the victor was going to get a banner to hang in their gym. But the night brought only frustration for the Tigers. It certainly was not a case of Chaffey failing to move the ball. Led by senior Raymond Rodriguez, who rushed for 161 yards, the Tigers racked up 274 yards to Claremont’s 331. But Chaffey was hampered by turnovers and ultimately could never capitalize on their opportunities.
Claremont, on the other hand, was spot on in its passing game, with senior quarterback Ricky Murillo getting 16 completions from 22 attempts for 238 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Isaiah Love caught two of those touchdown passes, with five total completions and 64 yards. Sophomore Kyle Ferm caught three passes for 123 yards and one touchdown. Murillo also had one rushing touchdown. But it was the defense that was the true show stopper.
“The guys up front: Eddie Flores, Luke Pruitt and Alexander Lopez were just stout and our outside linebackers as well Nick Macias and Kyle Ferm did a great job,” Coach Hile said.
He singled out senior captain inside linebacker Simon Jansezian as being a key to Claremont’s success this year.
“He is probably one of the most intellectual football players I have ever coached,” Coach Hile said. “He understood the defense he understood the offense. We got to a point as coaches where we just listened [to what he said.] And on top of that, he is a tremendous football player.”
As the frustration of a pending loss built, Chaffey’s Rodriguez drew a pair of personal fouls for particularly brutal tackles, one of which left Ferm flat on his back. That hit in particular brought the entire Claremont coaching staff onto the field demanding that the officials do something about Rodriguez, which earned the Pack a penalty as well.
Chaffey put together its most impressive drive late in the fourth quarter, chewing up the yards until the Tigers were in the shadow of Claremont’s goalpost. Down 31-0 with less than a minute on the clock, Chaffey had no chance of victory but at least they could deny Claremont its string of shutouts. But it was not to be. After Chaffey fumbled one last time, junior Dylan Macias ran 90 yards for one final Claremont touchdown.
Due to the coronavirus, the traditional handshake at the end of the game was replaced with the teams lining up to congratulate each other from a distance. A few ventured out to greet each other personally including Coach Hile, who crossed the field to have a few words with Rodriguez and give him a hug.
“I just wanted to let him know that we loved him and I think he is a great football player and there are no hard feelings on our side,” Coach Hile said.
Just after the game, senior kicker Miguel Lopez sought out Coach Hile at midfield, and as his teammates celebrated, the two embraced. Asked about the significance of that quiet moment amid the chaos of the victory celebration, Coach Hile explained that he had bonded with Miguel because their mothers had died when they were young.
“We hugged and said our moms would be very proud of us right now,” Coach Hile said.