YHS Football

Yucaipa’s Devrajsinh Zala snags one of his two interceptions against Citrus Valley.

Butch Price, the father of Yucaipa High football coach Justin Price, has been coaching since the Nixon Administration of the early 1970s. The elder Price, following Yucaipa’s stunning 38-21 victory on Saturday, March 27 against Citrus Valley, gathered the Thunderbirds and recited a mantra.

“I am only one.

But I am someone.

I can’t do everything.

But I can do something.

And what I can do, I must do.

By the grace of God, I must do. I believe! I believe! Thunderbirds! Thunderbirds! Thunderbirds!”

The Yucaipa team exploded into cheers, celebrating a victory that had observers around the Citrus Belt League shaking their heads.  Citrus Valley won the previous meeting between the schools in 2019, 56-7. The Blackhawks (1-1) also rolled in their season opener on March 20, defeating Redlands East Valley 53-7.

Yucaipa (1-1) opened its season March 20 by dropping a deceptively close game to defending champion Cajon, 30-18.

“After last week we learned that we can play with anybody physically because Cajon is very physical,” Justin Price said.  “We’ve stuck together through this whole quarantine. The kids never gave up hope.

Our team is all about playing with heart. We’re not the biggest and we’re not the fastest, but the kids believe in each other.”

The game was a forgettable one for Citrus Valley, which yielded 275 yards to Yucaipa on the ground. The Blackhawks also lost star quarterback Dylan Wheatley to an injury early in the fourth quarter.

Wheatley was hit by two Yucaipa defenders after mishandling the center snap and went down hard. He lay on the turf nearly for 20 minutes before being taken off on a stretcher and whisked away by ambulance.

Justin Price spoke to Citrus Valley coach Kurt Bruich the day after the game. Bruich said Wheatley incurred a whiplash but will have  no long-term effects and will return this season.

“Any time you have something involving the neck and back, you err on the side of caution,” Citrus Valley athletic director Boyd Lim said.

“It (the injury) isn’t anything too serious. But I saw a picture of him (afterward) and he looks like he’s been in a brawl – which is kind of what a football game is and Yucaipa won it, which is a credit to them.”

Citrus Valley led 14-10 midway through the second quarter following a 7-yard touchdown run by Jeremiah Claiborne.

The Blackhawks got the ball back late in the first half, but a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown by Cole Cheesner put Yucaipa ahead 17-14 at the half.

The Thunderbirds really seized control starting the second half, driving 54 yards to score on a 21-yard run by Louie Sandoval III to increase their lead to 24-14.

“When we came out on offense after the half and went down and scored, I felt like that really boosted us,” Yucaipa offensive lineman Dylan Sprague said.

Citrus Valley marched to the Yucaipa 8 on its next drive, but a Wheatley fourth-down pass was broken up by Devrajsinh Zala who also had two interceptions. The Thunderbirds began to pull away when Sandoval sprinted 92 yards around the right side for a TD that made it 31-14 midway through the third quarter.

Citrus Valley lost Wheatley on its first possession of the fourth quarter and then Yucaipa erased all doubt with a 10-yard TD run by running back JoJo Barajas.

The Yucaipa offensive line of Ryan Sorensen, Wesley Cybula, Francisco Cortez, Isaac Ramirez and Sprague created enough daylight for Sandoval to rush for 120 yards on five carries and score two touchdowns and Barajas to rush for 112 yards on 17 carries.

Senior quarterback Elijah James, who transferred from Citrus Valley to Yucaipa before this season, ran for 48 yards and passed for 82. “It’s a good feeling,” James said of the victory. “Nothing feels better than transferring from a school and coming in and beating them.”

Zala and fellow safety Jacob Garcia paced the Yucaipa defense, along with inside linebacker Dylan Stevens and an aggressive front.

Citrus Valley did have one last hurrah, as backup QB Hunter Herrera hit Sergio Cervantes over the middle for a 50-yard TD.

Wheatley threw for 165 yards before departing. Claiborne rushed for 116 yards on 16 carries.

Citrus Valley (1-1) hosts Redlands (0-2) on Saturday, April 3. Yucaipa hosts Beaumont (1-1). Both games are at 5 p.m.

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