Village News Reporter
Palo Verde Valley High School defeated Fallbrook High School to win the CIF San Diego Section Division IV football championship.
The Yellow Jackets scored on five of their nine possessions in the 33‑14 victory Nov. 25 at Escondido High School. Two of the other four possessions ended as the half expired; Palo Verde only punted twice and did not turn the ball over.
“They earned it,” Fallbrook coach Ross Johnson said of the Yellow Jackets’ championship. “They’ve got a great team over there.”
Fallbrook was given the top seed in the CIF Division IV playoffs. Palo Verde was seeded seventh. The Yellow Jackets had a first-round home game against 10th-seeded Mount Miguel and won that by a 36-27 score. Palo Verde then won a 27-21 quarterfinal at second-seeded La Jolla Country Day and a 35-15 semifinal at third-seeded Coronado. The Yellow Jackets thus not only defeated the three top seeded teams in the Division IV playoffs but also made the trip from Blythe for all three games.
“They’re a tough team,” Johnson said. “They’re lightning fast.”
Palo Verde Valley did not throw a pass the entire game. The 10 plays following the return of the opening kickoff gained 65 yards. An 11-yard run by Markus Macon with 6:37 left in the first period gave the Yellow Jackets their first touchdown, and Joshua Perez kicked the extra point for a 7-0 score.
Fallbrook gained six yards on the Warriors’ first three offensive plays. A 58-yard Josh Gomez punt started the next Yellow Jackets possession on their own 4-yard-line, but only six plays were needed for Palo Verde to gain those 96 yards for the touchdown. Macon ran 26 yards into the end zone with 2:07 left in the first quarter and Perez made the score 14-0 with his conversion kick.
On the Warriors’ next possession, a 36-yard pass from Evan Thomas to Peyton Van Eik advanced the ball to the Palo Verde 20, but a bad snap on the next play cost the Warriors 12 yards. The next two plays gained seven yards, but Thomas’ fourth-down pass was broken up for a turnover on downs. Two plays later Macon gained 57 yards on a carry to move the ball to the Fallbrook 16, and on the play after that, Xzavier Bejarano ran the final 16 yards into the end zone. The kick for the point after was low, maintaining the 20-0 score.
The kickoff was out of bounds, giving the Warriors possession at their own 35. Chris Bausch then gained 10 yards on the next two plays. He also incurred what is believed to be a broken rib and did not play for the rest of the game.
Bausch and Alan Leon were normally Fallbrook’s starting halfbacks. After Bausch’s injury, Jackson Christopherson complemented Leon. “Jackson could be a number one running back for a lot of teams in the county,” Johnson said. “He did everything that we expected him to do.”
After a one-yard loss, Leon and Christopherson combined for nine carries to gain the necessary yardage for the touchdown. Christopherson crossed the goal line on a one yard run with 4:21 remaining in the half. Gomez kicked the extra point to reduce the Yellow Jackets’ lead to 20-7.
Six plays following the kickoff gave Palo Verde Valley a touchdown with 1:44 left in the half. Bejarano scored on a three-yard run.
Fallbrook lost three yards on the first play following the second-half kickoff, and after a two-yard gain, Thomas threw 24 yards to Sam Bruton for a first down at the Palo Verde 42. Christopherson then had rushing gains of 6 and 16 yards to bring the ball to the 20. Although the next three plays gained only three yards, Thomas found Van Eik in the end zone on the fourth-down play and threw a 17-yard touchdown strike with 7:03 left in the third period. Gomez made the score 26-14 with the conversion kick. The 65-yard scoring drive required nine plays.
The first Palo Verde run after the kickoff return was a two-yard loss, and the Warriors’ defense then held Palo Verde for no gain. The only Palo Verde passing play of the game ended with a Kaleb Collings sack for a nine-yard loss rather than with a throw.
“It was just a good experience,” Collings said. “It was just a really big thing for me.”
Fallbrook obtained two first downs after the Yellow Jackets’ punt but lost a fumble. “It was unfortunate that we were a little sloppy with the ball tonight,” Johnson said.
Palo Verde ran the final three plays of the third quarter and the first 12 plays of the fourth period during the 66-yard scoring drive which included a fourth-down conversion and a one-yard touchdown run. Perez kicked the extra point to give Palo Verde Valley a 33-14 cushion.
The win gives Palo Verde Valley a 13-1 season record and also gives the Yellow Jackets two consecutive CIF championships. Last year Palo Verde, Fallbrook, and Mission Valley were all in Division V; Palo Verde defeated Fallbrook in a semifinal and Mission Bay in the 2021 championship game. This year, Fallbrook reached the CIF Division IV final with a 21-3 semifinal triumph over Mission Bay which followed a 47-21 quarterfinals win against Francis Parker. Fallbrook finished the season with a 9-4 overall record, and the Warriors were 4-1 in Valley League play to share the league championship.
“We’re really proud of the team overall,” Johnson said. “We had a really good run this year.”
Johnson was an Escondido High School assistant coach for 14 years before becoming the Warriors’’ head coach this year. “It was a very fun first year, and hopefully we’ll be able to build on some of the success we had this year,” he said.