Village News Reporter
The Cottonwood Flag Football Tournament took place Dec. 1 at Hamilton High School in Anza, and both the Vallecitos Elementary School boys and the Vallecitos girls earned championships.
"That's the first time that's ever been done. We're happy about that," Vallecitos coach Ray Hanbeck said of winning both championships.
The Cottonwood Flag Football Tournament was hosted by Cottonwood Elementary School of Aguanga but played at Hamilton High School since Cottonwood doesn't have its own field.
During the games, seven players for each team are on the field. The flag football games had a running clock for the 20-minute contests. The field length was 40 yards, and a team could obtain a first down by gaining 20 yards on three plays. A touchdown was worth six points, and teams had the option of a one-point conversion attempt from the five-yard-line which would be passing only or a two-point attempt from the 12-yard-line which could be either a run or a pass. An interception was worth two points as well as the change of possession.
Six small K-8 elementary schools and middle schools in northern San Diego County and southern Riverside County participate in athletic tournaments with a different school hosting a different sport each month.
Borrego Springs Middle School did not make the trip to Anza and Warner Middle School (Warner Springs) had a boys team only. The teams with the two best records in round-robin play faced each other in the championship game while the two teams with the next-best round-robin records participated in the third-place game.
Vallecitos had 15 boys and eight girls. Hanbeck coached both Vallecitos teams in practice and oversaw the girls during the tournament while his friend Andy Villalobos coached the boys during their games.
The Vallecitos girls began play with a 2-0 victory over Pauma. "That was a very close game," Hanbeck said.
The Vallecitos students practiced football for four weeks prior to the tournament, but sometimes fewer than seven girls were at the practice. "I wasn't able to have a full team the same day every practice," Hanbeck said.
Kathy Rojas was the only Vallecitos girl who also played in the 2022 Cottonwood Flag Football Tournament.
"It was hard for them to learn to play," Hanbeck said. "The first game was very tough. We were struggling to get the handoff right and get the patterns right."
Early in the game Dalina Hernandez intercepted a pass for the only score.
Julian had the best girls round-robin record. The Timberwolves obtained an 8-4 win over Vallecitos. Two Hernandez interceptions gave the Vikings a 4-0 lead, but a Julian touchdown and an interception overcame that deficit for the Timberwolves.
"After the Julian game we had a little bit of a break, so we were able to practice some handoffs," Hanbeck said.
Vallecitos closed out pool play with an 18-2 victory over Cottonwood. Hernandez scored two touchdowns and Rojas had one touchdown. "The girls were starting to get in the hang of things," Hanbeck said.
Cottonwood defeated Pauma in their round-robin game, and those two teams faced each other in the third-place match Cottonwood won. Second place in the pool gave Vallecitos a championship match game with Julian. "We were able to perform some reverses that worked out really well," Hanbeck said.
Hernandez scored two touchdowns, and Vallecitos prevailed by a 12-6 margin. "It was really satisfying," Hanbeck said.
"I was really proud of the girls," Hanbeck said. "I'm really happy that we were able to avenge the first loss."
The Vallecitos boys won all five games. The Vikings began with a 22-0 victory over Pauma. Scoring opened with a Leo Fuentes touchdown pass to David Loera, and Fuentes then ran for the two-point conversion. The conversion on the second touchdown pass from Fuentes to Loera was unsuccessful, but Loera subsequently gave the Vikings two points with an interception. Loera also scored the final touchdown against Pauma.
During pool play, Pauma's boys also lost to Warner, but the Bobcats defeated Julian and Cottonwood. Pauma also defeated Julian in the boys third-place game.
"We did pretty good," said Pauma coach Jaime Lopez.
The Vikings followed their game against Pauma with a 38-7 win against Cottonwood. The Cougars scored the game's first touchdown before Vallecitos responded with a Jesus Perez touchdown run, a Loera touchdown run and a two-point conversion, a Loera interception, a Fuentes touchdown pass to Loera and a Fuentes run for a two-point conversion, a Geovani Yanez touchdown reception, an interception by Caleb Delcid, and a touchdown throw to Sylvester Hernandez.
The Vallecitos game against Warner had an 8-0 final score. Fuentes threw a touchdown pass to Yanez and Loera intercepted a pass. A 14-6 win over Julian closed out round-robin play for the Viking boys.
Warner lost only to Vallecitos in round-robin play, so the Wildcats were the second-place team which faced Vallecitos in the final whose 6-4 result was in the Vikings' favor. "That was a very close game. It was all interceptions," Hanbeck said.
A Warner interception gave the Wildcats a 2-0 lead. Hernandez intercepted a pass to tie the game, and Loera obtained an interception for a 4-2 Vikings advantage. Warner then intercepted a pass to create a 4-4 score. Another interception by Loera turned out to be the winning margin.
"We had some really strong play," Hanbeck said. "I'm really happy with the results."
Villalobos added some plays to the ones Hanbeck had taught the Vallecitos boys. "It worked out really well," Hanbeck said. "I'm just really thankful for Andy coaching the kids."
Last year, the Cottonwood Flag Football Tournament had six boys teams divided into two pools; the Vikings won their pool and Hamilton defeated Vallecitos in the championship game between the pool winners.
The schools' next tournament will be the Jan. 25 Borrego Springs Basketball Tournament. Borrego Springs Middle School does not have its own gymnasium but is next to Borrego Springs High School, so the tournament will take place in the high school gymnasium.