Castro Valley senior Leikela Lunt stood about 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage in overtime, in the final regular season game for the Trojans, tied at 28 with Piedmont. Lunt had already drilled the game-tying extra-point late in regulation, and now eyed a 28-yard kick to win the game and finish the season on a high note for the Trojans, a season which had been marked by injuries and a couple of close, heart-breaking losses early in the year.
“Leikela had been accurate for us all year, especially inside of 30 yards,” said Castro Valley coach Denny Molzen. “We stuck to what we believed in, and she came through.”
The moment was immediately a remarkable one in Bay Area football. Plenty of female athletes have made their mark on the gridiron in recent years, especially at the kicker position. But few have been placed in a make-or-break game-winning situation, and it might be the first time that one drilled the game-winning kick, much less in the last game of the season.
Piedmont had possessed the ball first in the second overtime, after both teams scored in the first session, with the Trojans scoring on a touchdown pass to sophomore Zach Sandoval and a successful extra-point by Lunt. On the Highlanders’ possession in the second overtime, the Castro Valley defense came up big with a stop on fourth-and-inches, meaning all that was needed for the win was three points from their senior kicker. Lunt delivered the game-winning kick, giving Castro Valley its second win in league play.
“We had kids who got hurt this season, but everyone kept fighting and we felt confident going into overtime,” Molzen added. “We had done it before, when we beat Berkeley, and then as soon as we got the stop in the second overtime, we knew that Leikela could get it done for us. She was so focused on her job, that even after she made the kick to win the game, the first thing she did was remember to pick up the tee.”
Both teams figure to be part of a shake-up in the West Alameda County Conference for next season, as the league is working on adding James Logan for football only, and moving teams around in either its current two-tier system or possibly a three-tier system. Piedmont seems a certainty to move down out of the Foothill next season, while Castro Valley could possibly do the same as well, especially if a three-tier system is adopted.
It seems hard to believe that Napa did not win a game in the 2018 season, especially after the Grizzlies went 7-3 this season, finished tied for second in the Vine Valley Athletic League and gave Clayton Valley a battle in the Division 2 quarterfinals. With new coach Richie Wessman returning for his second year in 2020 and Brock Bowers returning for his senior campaign, things are all of a sudden looking a lot brighter in wine country.
Novato also made a dramatic turnaround in the 2019 season. The Hornets had lost 20 straight games entering the season, a stretch which occurred after nearly dropping the varsity level. But Novato routed American in its season opener, on its way to a 5-5 season that included a three-game winning streak in September and a late-season victory over Terra Linda.
Willits and Northgate both went 1-9 last year, but both teams turned it around to finish in the top three of their respective leagues. Willits is now 8-3 after a quarterfinal playoff victory, facing Ferndale in the Division 7 semifinals this week, while Northgate finished 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the DAL-Valley.
Ygnacio Valley not only erased the memory of a 2-7 record in 2018, but posted the program’s highest win total since 2009, finishing the regular season with seven wins before bowing out in the quarterfinals to St. Bernard’s.
Lower Lake took a 2-8 finish in 2018, found a new quarterback in junior Vann Wilkins, and turned that into a seven-win regular season. The Trojans fell to Justin-Siena in the Division 5 quarterfinals.
Ferndale wasn’t too far removed from some glory years when the Wildcats fell to four wins last season. Still, not too many people anticipated an eight-win regular season, an unbeaten run in the HDN-Little 4 and now a berth in the Division 7 semifinals after handling California School for the Deaf in the quarterfinals.
Missing on the big stage
While the section playoffs are no doubt filled with the biggest stars, there were a few other players having outstanding seasons that we would have liked to have seen for at least one more game.
Freedom senior quarterback Jake Byrne finished his high school career on a high note, leading the Falcons to wins in their last three games of the year. For the season, he completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,260 yards and 18 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. His senior year culminated with a 294-yard, five-touchdown performance in a season-ending win over Deer Valley.
For the past couple seasons, Mt. Eden coach Paul Perenon described the potential of 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver Lenard LeBlanc III. This year, LeBlanc put it all together with 43 catches for 869 yards and 13 touchdowns, including a pair of scores in the Monarchs’ season-ending loss to Hayward.
We are certainly glad we get to see Antioch junior Jailen Weaver with another year on the gridiron. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Weaver developed into a terror for opposing backfields, finishing his year with 12 tackles for a loss and nine sacks.