Knights tame Lions in 8-man championship

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The celebration lasted so long, Foothills Christian got locked out of the locker rooms.

The Knights beat the San Diego Jewish Academy Lions 41-14 in the CIF San Diego Section Division VI championship game held at Mission Bay High School last Saturday. Foothills Christian (9-2, 5-0 Ocean) forced four turnovers and held San Diego Jewish (6-3, 3-2 Ocean) to 239 yards, with just 93 of those coming in the second half.

“They gave us all we wanted that first half and then they started wearing down and I think our conditioning paid off,” head coach Joe Mackey said.

The celebration lasted so long, Foothills Christian got locked out of the locker rooms.

The Knights beat the San Diego Jewish Academy Lions 41-14 in the CIF San Diego Section Division VI championship game held at Mission Bay High School last Saturday. Foothills Christian (9-2, 5-0 Ocean) forced four turnovers and held San Diego Jewish (6-3, 3-2 Ocean) to 239 yards, with just 93 of those coming in the second half.

“They gave us all we wanted that first half and then they started wearing down and I think our conditioning paid off,” head coach Joe Mackey said.

The Knights held a narrow 15-8 halftime lead when Mackey changed his strategy.

“We started blitzing our middle linebacker, and we didn’t blitz him at all the first half,” Mackey said. “But we started blitzing him the second half and that quarterback just didn’t have nothing to do, nowhere to go.”

After going 5-for-10 passing in the first half for 102 yards, Lion senior quarterback Ruben Veinbergs was 1-for-9 in the second half for 20 yards and one rushing yard.

Even the Lions’ rare success on offense resulted from the Knights’ defensive aggression. Junior Ilan Leisorek took a reverse for a 22-yard touchdown with 3:20 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 15-14.

“That play that they had, that cut back thing, we practiced on it all week because we saw it on film and it’s a good play,” Mackey said. “If they could keep doing that, but then they would turn around and have a sack for 15 yards. They weren’t able to keep a consistency going.”

Foothills Christian made a few early defensive mistakes, though the Knights’ effort helped mask them.

For example, Veinbergs connected with Leisorek on a deep streak down the left sideline on second-and-10 from the Lions’ 20-yard line with 12 seconds remaining in the first half. Three Knights chased Leisorek downfield and forced him to change course, stopping him on the 12-yard line as time expired.

“They could’ve taken the lead on that, but we stopped him,” Foothills Christian junior quarterback/defensive back Tony Mroz said. “That’s where we know we actually are the best defense in this league. That’s why we made that stop, because we are the best defense.”

Mroz finished 12-for-17 passing for 157 yards with four touchdowns. He added 61 rushing yards and another touchdown on 11 carries.

Much like the defense, Mroz benefited from a halftime adjustment. He passed for 104 yards in the second half.

“We talked about the fact that they were jamming us in the front line in the middle and we weren’t getting much ground there,” Mackey said. “They were also covering us pretty good on the outside. So we figured the only way we’re gonna do this is we’re gonna keep two backs back and we’re gonna pass.”

Mroz and the rest of the offense might have been able to put up gaudier stats, but the defense was too effective — four of the Knights’ five second-half drives started in Lions territory.

Sophomore tight end Blake McIntyre was Mroz’s favorite target, catching eight passes for 85 yards and three touchdowns. With 8:17 remaining, 6-foot-2-inch McIntyre reached over the defensive back to bat a jump ball to himself for a 14-yard touchdown and a 27-14 lead. Mroz said catches like that, as well as the second-quarter diving catch by junior tight end Carter Hallahan on a fake punt, breathe life into the Knights’ offense.

“I know that my guys have my back,” Mroz said. “I know I can trust my receivers to catch the ball even if it’s a bad throw. I know I can trust my linemen to block for me. I knew that I could do it, but God put the power and will into me to play the game of football, so just all thanks to Him.”

Veinbergs was briefly knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. Knights junior linebacker Kevin Helfers intercepted Lions backup quarterback Isaac Rosen’s only pass of the game and returned it for a touchdown for a 41-14 lead with 5:10 remaining.

The Knights’ championship is their second in three years. McIntyre said they made it a goal to avenge last season’s 75-24 loss to Calvin Christian in the regular season finale, which kept them out of the playoffs.

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