They slumped, they stumbled, a traditionally dominant football program met with untraditionally scant levels of success.
This was a fairly underclassmen-heavy Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High team, and the players made underclassmen-type mistakes en route to a 2-4 start, struggling to find a rhythm through the first half of this season.
“They always say, every sophomore you start’s good for a loss,” coach Jon Ellinghouse said jokingly.
That strange saying, however, doesn’t quite apply to running back Dane Dunn, a 5-foot-9 sophomore in name but not in speed and power. He’s buoyed the Trailblazers all season, a 24-touchdown season leading Sierra Canyon on a seven-game winning streak into a Southern Section Division 2 championship against Inglewood.
And Saturday, Ellinghouse abandoned a passing game, placing the ball in Dunn’s hands and watching him roll for 209 yards and three touchdowns in a 23-7 win.
“We had some guys that had to grow up,” Ellinghouse said of his young core. “And they have, and I’m really proud of them.”
It took little time for Dunn to assert his presence, taking a draw up the middle on Sierra Canyon’s first offensive play of the game and breaking free of tacklers for a 50-yard gain. The next play, he ran in a short touchdown to put the Trailblazers up 7-0.
In the second quarter, he struck again, pushing the Trailblazers down the field, squirming and dragging for every yard. From the eight-yard line, he burst through, twisting and stretching the football behind his head in a display of willpower to break the plane of the goal line.
And those two scores were all Sierra Canyon needed.
Inglewood quarterback Husan Longstreet has been a star all season, the sophomore entering Saturday night with 35 passing touchdowns. Yet he faced perhaps his stiffest test all season in an athletic Trailblazers defense, and the front line swarmed him out of the pocket as the secondary blanketed Sentinel-green pass-catchers.
Helping limit Longstreet to a lone first-half touchdown and a handful of short gains was another Sierra Canyon sophomore — defensive back Jae’On Young. After a first-half interception, he picked off another Longstreet pass with Inglewood trying to muster some momentum in the third quarter, continuing to stifle a once-mighty Sentinel offense.
And with just a few minutes left, running out the clock, Dunn kept fighting — celebrating his third touchdown of the game to chants of “Good-bye!” from Sierra Canyon fans.