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Panthers rush to first section title since 2004

QUALCOMM STADIUM – On a mission since falling in last year’s championship game, Vista would not be denied on their return trip. The 3-seed Panthers rushed their way to a 33-21 victory over 4-seed Mira Mesa in the Division I finals in the nightcap on Monday.

“We just knew what it took. Last year we got here and we felt good just making it,” said Vista receiver/defensive back Stefan McClure. “This year we didn’t feel good about making it here; we had to win it.”

Ahead 26-7 early in the fourth quarter following a Branden Ivy 25-yard field goal, Vista (12-1) looked like it would win it first section title since 2004 in comfortable fashion. Mira Mesa (7-6) didn’t make it that easy on the Panthers.

With 8:14 left in the game Mira Mesa quarterback Dominic Richardson ran for a 12-yard touchdown and after forcing a Vista punt, the ball was snapped over McClure’s head and recovered at the three-yard line. The Marauders scored on the next play, a three-yard Jalen Fields run, to make it a 26-21 game.

“We’re up two scores and then we snapped the ball over the head and gave up a score,” said Vista head coach Dan Williams. “I don’t think we panicked at all. I felt our kids would rise to the challenge and accept the adversity.”

In need of a long drive to ice the game, the Panthers turned to their rushing attack. Burning four minutes off the clock, Vista capped the drive with a Joey McFadden touchdown run on fourth-and-goal from the Mira Mesa one-yard line.

“I told coach just give it to me up the middle and I’ll score for him. I’m the muscle of the backs, so feed the beast,” McFadden said.

Vista relied on the different running styles of bruiser McFadden and speedster Shakeel Marshall to control the game and keep Mira Mesa off balance. Marshall ran for touchdowns of three and 80 yards in the second quarter to help get Vista out to a 14-0 lead early on.

“The offensive line was just executing its blocks,” Marshall said. “Every single play they were on top of it opening up those holes so I could just hit it and bounce it outside and use my speed to get into that endzone.”

In the second half the Panthers gave Mira Mesa a heavy dose of the 5’10”, 220-pound McFadden. The senior scored a one-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter in addition to his one-yard score that sealed the win for Vista.

“We felt we could run against them. With the stack defense, our goal was to run right at them,” Williams said. “Shak and Joey did what we asked them to do and the guys up front blocked well for them.”

The win gives Vista its ninth section title in section history and first since 2004, when the Panthers shared the crown with Torrey Pines. Vista started the season at No. 1 and will end it on top of the polls as well.

“Throughout the season I was hearing we were overrated and it was a good motivating thing for our kids,” Williams said. “We played pretty darn good football this year. This has helped bring Vista back.”

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