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West side glory
Falcons beat Honkers for first time
Ever since River Valley High started competing at the varsity level in 2006, every key victory came with the same label — "biggest win in school history."
Whether it be a baseball win over Woodland or Pioneer, a volleyball or softball win over Yuba City or beating Sutter on the football field, each time the Falcons won a big game the label seemed to stick.
But as big as those wins might have been, they all took a back seat to what transpired at Falcon Stadium on Friday night.
Taking on cross-town rival Yuba City in the sixth annual Mayor's Cup, the Falcons exorcised the demons of years past by jumping out to a 21-point halftime lead and holding on late for a thrilling 34-29 victory over the Honkers.
It was the first time that River Valley had beaten Yuba City in the three major sports — football, basketball and baseball — and it came in front of a packed house at Falcon Stadium on an odd evening in which the scoreboard was inoperable.
There were plenty of heroes for the Falcons on this night, and none were bigger than senior running back Jordan Pankey, who rushed for 156 yards including a game-winning 73-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
"It means the world right now. It was something the other classes couldn't do and we accomplished it," Pankey said. "We did it as a team. Not one person did it by themselves."
The Falcons (4-6, 2-3) showed they were ready to play from the start by marching 64 yards for a touchdown on the first drive of the night. Leaving nothing to chance in the final game of the year, River Valley opened up the playbook early when Dewey Maxham hooked up with Pankey on a 34-yard halfback pass on the third play of the game.
Junior quarterback Mark Nelson turned the big play into points when he made a play-action fake and found a wide open Gregory Cannon for a 23-yard scoring strike to give the Falcons a quick 7-0 lead.
Yuba City (3-7, 1-4) tied the game on its first possession when Spencer Malugani scored from 11 yards out, but the Falcons answered back immediately when Nelson threw a deep pass to Cannon, who made finger-tip catch and raced into the end zone to complete a 52-yard score.
Brandon Marler then recovered an onside kick, leading to a 4-yard run by Maxham and Nelson scored on a quarterback sneak late in the second quarter to give the Falcons a 28-7 lead at the half.
But as expected, Yuba City didn't just lay down.
The Honkers cut into the lead early in the third quarter when Taylor Elkins hooked up with Anthony Fleenor for a 7-yard scoring strike. Elkins followed the TD pass by tossing the two-point conversion to Aaron Byers, and just like that the Honkers had trimmed the score to 28-15.
Elkins found James Van Dusen for a 19-yard touchdown later in the third to make the score 28-22 and stayed hot by hooking up with Fleenor for a 26-yard scoring strike on a fade pattern to give Yuba City a 29-28 lead with 7:27 left on the clock.
Then came the play of the game.
After calling a timeout, River Valley coach Brandon Asher dialed up a shovel pass and it paid off when Pankey took a short pitch from Nelson and raced 73 yards for a touchdown.
The play — 34 shovel pass — will now go down in Falcon lore as the one that beat the Honkers.
"We went with an option look to the left and then shoveled it underneath to the right," Asher explained. "We only ran it twice all year and they were in key situations. We needed something big, and it worked for us."
Yuba City had one last chance to win it and drove the ball down to the Falcons' 10-yard line late. However, Derek Zaragoza broke up a pass for Fleenor in the end zone on fourth down and River Valley ran out the final 3:43 off the clock to earn the win.
Once the horn sounded, River Valley's student body stormed the field in celebration. And when Mayor John Dukes handed the perpetual trophy over to the Falcons for the first time, many players, parents and coaches had tears in their eyes.
"That's a good team and they've lost a lot of close games this year," Asher said of the Honkers. "They came back, but we didn't quit and that shows the character of this team.
"The kids won it, it wasn't given to them."
Yuba City played the game without leading rusher Nate Van Dusen, who suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder a week ago. In his absence, the Honkers went to the air and Elkins made it work by completing 22 of 29 attempts for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
"They deserved it and I'm happy for them," Yuba City coach John Ithurburn. "They played well and beat us tonight."