There was plenty of reason to celebrate at Arroyo Grande High’s Doug Hitchen Stadium on Saturday night.
The Eagles crushed Chaminade Prep of West Hills 52-19 to advance to the CIF-Southern Section Western Division football championship game.
Songs synonymous with rejoicing blasted over the loudspeakers. Players sprayed each other with Silly String. A sea of family and friends flooded onto the field, hugging and taking photos.
“I have so much emotion running through me,” Eagles running back Christian Crichton said. “It’s amazing. It’s an awesome feeling.
“A.G. has a legacy that many programs can’t say that they have,” Crichton added, “and it’s been our goal since the beginning of the year to bring it back.”
The Eagles (11-2) will play for the title at Junipero Serra High in Gardena on Friday.
“I feel so happy,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said, “and I don’t mean just for this year’s group. We’ve had a couple of years where the kids have just given everything to the program.”
Serra (13-0), the division’s No. 1 seed, scored all of its points in the first half at home on Friday while defeating Paso Robles, the PAC 7 champion, 41-23.
The Cavaliers, a defending state bowl champion, came into the semifinals ranked No. 24 in the country in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 and No. 27 in ESPN RISE’s national Fab 50.
Serra, whose win over Paso Robles was its 28th straight, has nearly a dozen players commonly regarded as big-time Division I college recruits — including SMU-bound quarterback Conner Preston and receiver George Farmer, rated by Rivals.com as the No. 4 overall prospect in the nation.
“It’s not over,” Goossen said of the Eagles’ playoff run, “and I’m afraid that mountain (being Serra) is a big one to climb.
“Serra is a one-in-a-million club with players up and down their lineup that are going to be playing on Saturday, and a few of them on Sunday,” Goossen said. “When you get to the finals, you’re not expecting it to be easy, and this sure is not going to be easy for us. But we’re there.”
Serra’s closest win all season was a 35-21 victory over the same Chaminade team that Arroyo Grande beat Saturday. Chaminade had been hoping for a championship-game rematch with its Mission League rival.
Did Goossen expect this kind of a final score?
“Not a chance in heck,” he said with a smile. “No way.”
After going to halftime down 16-14, Arroyo Grande rattled off 38 straight points before Chaminade tacked on a strictly academic field goal with 12 seconds left in the game.
“We just went to halftime and were like, ‘We get one on the board, and we’re going to roll,’ ” Crichton said. “Our offensive line started pushing people off the ball, and we reaped the benefits.”
The Eagles’ defense came up with four interceptions — Garrett Coleman had two, and Seth Jacobs and Derek Johnson each snagged one apiece.
Arroyo Grande quarterback Brent Vanderveen rushed 14 times for a game-high 128 yards — 80 of which came on a touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. The 6-foot-5 junior also ran in another TD and passed for 123 yards and two more scores.
Kelly Shepard had two catches for 50 yards and a TD, L.T. Johnson had two catches for 47 yards and another TD, and Crichton ran for 86 yards and two scores.
Earlier this year, Paso Robles edged the Eagles 14-10 thanks to a last-minute goal-line stand in what longtime coaches described as a historically great game. The Eagles have been completely undeterred in the wake of that loss, which eliminated them from PAC 7 title contention.
“We were bummed after that, because we couldn’t get a league championship,” Coleman said. “Once we lost there, we all set our sights on a CIF championship.
“We’ve got a great team ahead of us — Serra,” Coleman said.