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Jaguars capture second straight section crown

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Valley Center running back Justin Lawrence scores a touchdown in the second quarter of the Division IV championship game. The Jaguars beat Madison 31-20 at Qualcomm Stadium.

The last couple of years have been special for Valley Center’s football team. Friday afternoon the Jaguars won their second Division IV section title in a row and third in four years, beating Madison 31-24 at Qualcomm Stadium.

“This group of guys – they’re really neat to be around, they have fun every day at practice, no discipline problems, no academic problems,” said Valley Center head coach Rob Gilster. “The guys came ready to work every day and it was so much fun to coach them.”

Valley Center opened the scoring midway through the first quarter when quarterback Tyler Bernard found tight end Patrick Preston for a nine-yard touchdown. Bernard found wide receiver James Johnson for a 28-yard score just before halftime to give the Jaguars a 21-7 lead at the half.

Madison got going in the second half behind the running of Robbie Rouse. After a Valley Center fumble to open the third quarter, Rouse scored on a seven-yard touchdown. Rouse’s one-yard score in with 8:44 in the fourth quarter cut Madison’s deficit to four at 24-20. Madison’s senior running back finished with 238 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries.

With their lead shrunk to four, Valley Center responded on their next drive. Bernard found Johnson again, who faked out a Madison defensive back and ran untouched into the endzone from 56 yards out for the game’s final score. “When we get him the ball, we know things are going to happen,” Bernard said.

It was a record-setting day for Johnson, who became the section’s all-time leader in receiving yards, passing El Camino’s Nelson Rosario (2005-2007). Johnson’s 162 yards on six receptions in the game gave him 2,930 career receiving yards.

“We were trying to get him the record, but it’s tough when they’re doubling,” Bernard said. “For him to get open and break tackles – he got it on his own, no help from me.”

Johnson broke the record wearing teammate Jeremy Rubio’s No. 23 jersey. Rubio was injured in practice this week and unable to play in the game.

“I’ll be playing again in the future and he will never get a chance to play again,” said Johnson, who is considering Colorado, Oregon and Utah, “so why not honor him by wearing his jersey.

“Of course I want to go out there and make plays – do whatever I need to do. But wearing his jersey in honor of him makes me feel that much better.”

After their win over Madison in the Division IV championship, anyone wearing a Valley Center jersey has to feel pretty good.

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