The Dons fall to Hamilton in the Division II Quarterfinals
The Verdugo Hills Dons Championship chase came to a bitter end at the hands of the Hamilton Yankees, 48-16 on Friday afternoon. Hamilton’s speed and athleticism was on full display from the outset, as they raced out to a 13-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Dons continued their trend of starting slow as they have done in recent weeks, but this time it would prove too tall of a task to overcome.
The game began to slip away from the Dons right at the outset of the second quarter when Hamilton hit on a 45-yard touchdown strike to push the score to 20-0, right on the heels of the Dons going 3 and out to end the first. “We knew coming into this game that ball control would be key to us having success against them,” said Dons Head Coach Sean Jackson. “With their speed and athleticism, we didn’t want to get into a shootout.”
The Dons were forced to try to throw their way back into the game, as opposed to leaning on their physical running attack that dominated Marquez just the week before. Senior Quarterback Dane Iversen ultimately ended up throwing the ball 29 times, completing 17 of those attempts for 192 yards. The team put up 84 yards on the ground in total on only 20 carries.
To the Dons credit, the squad showed plenty of fight as the defense dug its heels in and forced the Yankees to punt on its next two possessions. Verdugo Hills was then able to get their offense in gear and put together back-to-back drives that culminated in rushing touchdowns of 7 and 11 yards by Junior Running Back Ifeanhyi Bosa. The 6’4” 250-pound bruiser left bodies in his wake on the way to the end zone, and it seemed as if the Dons had found their footing, making the score 20-13 at the 6:50 mark of the second quarter. But as the Dons found some success running the football, the defense continued to have no answers for the Yankees running attack, as they marched right down the field and punched it in from 20 yards out to retake control of the ball game and push the lead back to 14.
The biggest undoing of the Dons in this game were the momentum killing penalties and inopportune turnovers that plagued them throughout the first 3 quarters of this game. The first drive of the game saw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Sophomore wideout Ben Emery called back on an offensive pass interference penalty. After the Yankees reestablished a two-score lead in the second quarter, the Dons fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving Hamilton another short field to work with. The drive culminated with a 35-yard strike down the heart of the defense, and in a blink, the Dons were trailing at the half 34-13. The same scenario occurred again in the final minutes of the third quarter, this time it was Senior Running Back Max Solis losing the ball and the Yankees were able to convert the short field for another touchdown to blow the game wide open. “We killed ourselves with sloppy play. You can’t win games playing that way.” Said Coach Jackson.
The Dons mounted several successful drives in the second half, but just couldn’t find the punch they needed to finish with points. The Dons only mustered a 30-yard field goal midway through the third quarter and the only other drives that reached the Hamilton red zone ended in a turnover on downs early in the fourth, and an interception of Iversen on the goal line that effectively ended the game for the Yankees.
It was not the way the Dons wanted to end the season, but Coach Jackson believes there are plenty of positives to take from a successful season. “These boys fought hard to the end and that is all I can ask of them as a coach.” Said Jackson. “I’m proud of the effort they left out on the field. It just wasn’t meant for us today.” The future is still bright for the Verdugo Hills program, and with a handful of notable players returning next year, expect the Dons to be primed and ready to challenge for a title next season.