State championship win proves Cougars are Strong as Steele

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Steele Canyon players gave an emotional pregame tribute to Will Burton, a former Granite Hills football player, an all-section first team defensive selection who was tragically killed on Dec. 11 in an automobile accident. At Saturday’s state championship game, Steel players wore a special No. 19 decal on their helmets in remembrance of Burton in the spirit of community rival team camaraderie. Convinced Burton was watching Saturday’s game, players gave a performance that took their place as state champion.

Steele Canyon players gave an emotional pregame tribute to Will Burton, a former Granite Hills football player, an all-section first team defensive selection who was tragically killed on Dec. 11 in an automobile accident. At Saturday’s state championship game, Steel players wore a special No. 19 decal on their helmets in remembrance of Burton in the spirit of community rival team camaraderie. Convinced Burton was watching Saturday’s game, players gave a performance that took their place as state champion.

Players of Steele Canyon know DeVore Stadium well now. It is where they won their Division III CIF Championship title at the beginning of the month. That was a believable, achievable dream. Winning the State Championship on the same field just a few weeks later in front of family and friends was not the end to the season they expected. But no one is complaining. 

“We talked about winning CIF, we talked about being in the championship,” said Steele Canyon senior quarterback Thomas Fishburne. “But, honestly, it didn’t cross my mind that we were going to win state.”

The Cougars of Spring Valley played for the title at Southwestern College on Saturday, Dec. 16, against the Cougars of Half Moon Bay, winning 44-42. 

Half Moon Bay, a much smaller program, was a bit of a mystery, and their style of play is uncommon in these parts, said Steele Canyon head coach Scott Longerbone.

“Their system in phenomenal,” he said. “That double wing system is phenomenal and we don’t see it.”

It looked like Steele Canyon might make quick work of the visiting Cougars, crushing Half Moon Bay’s defense and scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter. But, despite being a smaller team and relying heavily on guys playing both sides of the ball, Half Moon Bay showed real tenacity, bringing the score to 15-14 in their favor by half time. 

The second half was a tug of war, both Cougar teams inching their way up the field. Steele Canyon cornerback Marvin James made two interceptions in the third quarter, each of which led to touchdowns. 

In the fourth quarter, Half Moon Bay made three touchdowns, one in the last 90 seconds of the game, and Steele Canyon made a field goal and touchdown, just enough to claim the game by two points. 

Fishburne credits team unity for the win.

“Hat goes off to Half Moon Bay, they put up a fight,” he said. “I think we were able to stay together as a team and as brothers, which really helped us come out on top tonight.”

“They’re such a tough bunch of young men,” said Longerbone. “This has been our whole season believing in ourselves, believing in what we’re preaching, believing in the process of what it takes to win football games. As a coach, you’re always hoping that kids are buying what you’re putting down, you want them to believe in what you’re saying and these guys really bought in and brought us a state championship.”

James, whose on-field heroics turned the tide of the game several times, said he did not have words to describe the feeling of being a newly titled state champion.

“I’m speechless,” he said. “To come this far, nobody thought we would have made it but we did.”

The win, which came on the heels of Helix’s 49-42 loss to Folsom for the Division 1-AA state championship, was a nice nod to San Diego football, said Fishburne.

“It’s just surreal being here now, seeing how many people this impacted, not just me,” he said. “We finally got some eyes on Steele Canyon for football, and just putting it on for San Diego. We wanted to come out here and show that San Diego has some ballers, too.”

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