ASTON — The tradition began Thursday afternoon in Dr. Wally Field continued for the senior Sun Valley football players and cheerleaders and their parents.
After the Vanguards put the finishing touches to a 26-7 Turkey Bowl win over Chichester, these seniors gathered in an end zone while their parents gathered on the opposite side of the field. When the final walk across the field was completed with the accompanying Forever Young game, the celebration began.
Sun Valley (6-6) celebrated the end of a three-part losing streak against Chichester and the conclusion of their first unbeaten season since 2016.
Ernie Ellis, in his second season as head coach at his alma mater, thought not about the three wins against Chi but about the 2-0 loss SV suffered in his final season.
He pointed to the end zone, out of which a football rolled, resulting in a safe and the game’s only points. He could have thought of that, but he didn’t mention the eight games Sun Valley lost to wrap up the 2021 season. Above all, he expressed his delight at seeing his older players walk away victorious after their last football game.
“You have set standards,” he told his players. “Now in January we’re going back to the weight room and working harder than ever to be ready to excel next season.”
Junior Noah Griffin (118 yards rushing on 18 carries) had a scoring run each half, senior quarterback Steve Eskridge (115 yards passing, 56 rushing) threw a touchdown pass to Josh Yanonis in the second quarter, and senior Todd Harper ran 13 yards for a TD to end the scoring at 1:04.
“All week we’ve been talking about how that was for the seniors,” Griffin said. “We were talking at half-time about how (Chichester) was going to run a fight so we had to pull ourselves together for the second half. They were still in the game, and we didn’t think they should have been.
“Knowing that I ran 100 yards in that game means a lot, but the biggest thing is getting the win. And when I got that second touchdown (a 25-yard run late in the third quarter), I knew we had it.”
Chichester (1-10), who ended the season on a nine-game losing streak, took the opener and marched from their 22nd to the Sun Valley 12 before losing a fumble. Griffin floored at the end of a 64-yard drive at Sun Valley in the second snap of the second quarter.
When the Vanguards got the ball back two minutes later, it only took them two games to return to the end zone. Eskridge scrambled to his feet, avoiding the Chichester onslaught and finding Yanonis alone behind the Eagles’ defense in a 59-yard scoring play.
“The pressure was coming from the right, so I rolled to the left,” Eskridge said. “I just brought the ball to (Yanonis) and he did the rest. The biggest thing for us today was that our offensive line (John-Paul Griswold, Sean Curley, Travis Powell, Matt Howard, Nolan Horton, Aiden Cook) allowed us to do what we did.
“That was game of the year for us, the game we all wanted to be a part of.”
Chichester landed two minutes after Eskridge’s TD throw on a 29-yard completion by Dan Kelly to Derrick Robertson.
In the second half, Sun Valley’s defense limited the Eagles to a first down, recovering from a fumble and twice intercepting Kelly.
“We knew they were going to try to get out there,” SV center back Ryan Creegan, who forced a pair of chi fumbles, said. “It was about doing the little things – and doing them right.
“I was up all night thinking about what I want to do today. And now we can think about what we need to do to be an even better football team next year.”