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Norsemen capture league title in defensive struggle

When Steele Canyon and Valhalla meet each season, the Jamacha Helmet trophy is on the line. Friday night in Spring Valley the stakes were higher and the Norsemen won a 14-7 defensive battle to capture both the helmet and the Grossmont South League title.

“It feels awesome,” said Valhalla quarterback Pete Thomas. “We’ve been working for this since January.”

Valhalla’s defense stopped Steele Canyon twice in the final two minutes. On each occasion, the Cougars had the ball in Norsemen territory.

“Coach gives us the philosophy ‘bend, don’t break,’” said Valhalla defensive lineman Leonard Pannek. “We don’t get nervous, we just play our hardest, get low and dig for every play.”

With just more than two minutes left, Steele Canyon (5-3-1, 2-1-1 Grossmont South) had the ball inside the Valhalla 10-yard line and appeared headed for a tying score. But a botched handoff between Cougars quarterback Brad Boehmke and tailback Alex Perlin left the ball on the turf, which Pannek pounced on.

“I was like, ‘Oh! There’s the ball!’” Pannek said. “I just jumped on it and held on for dear life while my teammates got in front of me.”

Following a Valhalla punt, Steele Canyon had the ball at the Norsemen 43-yard line with 1:26 left. But after an incomplete pass and a holding penalty, Valhalla defensive back Kweishi Brown picked off Boehmke to seal the win for the Norsemen.

“It means a whole lot. We always love beating Steele Canyon – it’s always a great feeling,” Pannek said.

Valhalla (7-2, 4-0) went ahead 14-7 in the third quarter on a 65-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to receiver Jevon Hasten. Hasten caught the ball in stride and sped past the Steele Canyon secondary for the score.

“The guy was on me and Pete threw a perfect pass and I was there,” Hasten said.

Defense dominated from the start of the game and after a scoreless first quarter, Steele Canyon broke the ice in the second quarter. The Cougars had the ball for nearly 11 minutes on a scoring drive capped with a Boehmke one-yard plunge.

It took Valhalla only a minute to drive 62 yards and tie things up. Traivonne Brown scored a nine-yard touchdown on a direct snap and the teams remained tied going into halftime.

“We’re two really evenly matched teams,” Thomas said. “We just happened to pull this one out tonight.”

With the win, Valhalla clinches the Grossmont South League title outright. Thomas, who finished 12-for-20 for 208 yards, now has his sights set returning to Qualcomm Stadium next month.

“Last year we were a big team and I think it surprised some people,” Thomas said. “Some people thought it was a fluke.”

The Norsemen will look to finish league play undefeated when they face Granite Hills (3-6, 0-4). Steele Canyon gets Monte Vista (2-7, 1-3) in their regular season finale.

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Valhalla players celebrate their win over Steele Canyon

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