Youth Football: Vikings advance to Super Bowl

Hollister Vikings tailback Isaiha Molina runs for the game-winning 22-yard touchdown in a 14-12 win over Pacifica on Nov. 14.

For the first time since 2007, the Hollister Vikings Pop Warner football program is sending one of its teams to the national championships in Florida. The program’s junior Peewee team (9 to 11 year olds) advanced to Pop Warner’s Super Bowl extravaganza after it beat Pacifica 14-12 in the Northwest Regional championship game at Rabobank Stadium on Nov. 14.
Hollister (9-1) plays in the national championships on Dec. 7 at 3:15 p.m. and a second game on Dec. 10 at the Disneyworld Complex in Orlando. The Vikings avenged their only loss of the season to Pacifica, which beat the Vikings 13-2 during the regular season. However, Hollister wasn’t about to be denied in the rematch.
“The kids were determined to win,” said Vikings coach Jeff Valenzuela, who is also the president of the entire program. “The difference this time was the perseverance of the kids. They were really pumped up, and I hadn’t seen them turn it on like that.”
The Vikings had an 8-0 lead with 3 minutes left in the second quarter before Pacifica scored 12 quick unanswered points to take a four-point advantage into halftime. But Hollister showed its resolve as tailback Isaiha Molina had a 22-yard touchdown run with 4 minutes left in the third quarter for the winning score.
“Isaiha is only 65 pounds, but he’s full of heart and intensity,” Valenzuela said. “He’s one of the fastest kids I’ve seen in a long time.”
Hollister also received a impact performance from its defensive backs. Aaron Biggs had two critical interceptions in the fourth quarter that quelled a pair of Pacifica drives, and Loren Snead broke up a couple of passes.
“Our defense just played tremendous,” Valenzuela said. “When we needed a stop, we got them.”
How dominant was the Hollister defense? Valenzuela said the team allowed only 40 points all season—an average of four points per game. Valenzuela’s son, Jeffrey, is the team’s defensive coordinator and line coach. He helped guide a dominant unit led by defensive tackles Alex Svenningsen and Omar Espinoza, linebackers Jayden Pritchett and Juan Cortez, Jr., defensive end Drew Speech and the aforementioned defensive backs Biggs and Snead.
Offensively, the Vikings relied on a powerful offensive line featuring center Gabriel Camacho, running backs Molina and Ernesto Zamora and quarterback Mateo Pelaiz. Kicker Anthony Mendoza also drew rave reviews for improving every game, and his two point-after conversions made the difference in the regional title game.
One of the more positive aspects of competing at the junior Peewee level—kids weigh anywhere from 65 to 115 pounds—is that everyone gets to participate. With 33 players on their roster, the Vikings are required to play everyone on at least six plays, per Pop Warner rules. However, Valenzuela said every player on his team gets in a minimum of 10 snaps a game.
Hollister’s victory was ha breakthrough for Valenzuela, who ended up on the winning side of a regional championship game for the first time in six tries as a coach in his 18 years with the program.
“Florida is icing on the cake,” he said. “To me it’s all about the boys getting excited and talking about how much fun they’re going to have.”
The Vikings also have a loyal fan base; after all, a number of kids who are in the Pop Warner program have older brothers or cousins who are playing for San Benito High. Even though Hollister sends more baseball players to four-year programs, the passion for football in the town is second to none.
“It was an awesome and inspirational feeling to have the community come out and support us,” Valenzuela said. “We could hear them cheering us on. It was loud, it was crazy and it was fun.”
Every successful youth organization needs a dedicated staff to help with a number of logistical matters. Valenzuela said the team couldn’t function without several people, including his wife, Dede, who is the team manager and an executive board member in charge of the scholastic program for the Peninsula Pop Warner League.
Dede takes care of all the paperwork, so the coaches can just coach and not have to worry about player eligibility and other possible issues. On the field, Valenzuela said his assistant coaches were key. In addition to Jeffrey, offensive coordinator Jason Kearns and special-teams coach Dustin Franco did an excellent job of preparing the kids for every in-game situation.

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