High school football: Aragon High School wins first section title in 27 years

CAMPBELL — With the final 30 seconds ticking off the clock, the Dons started celebrating. After a dominant second half, this Central Coast Section Division V title game was in the bag.

No. 1 Aragon High School defeated No. 7 St. Francis-Watsonville 38-14, holding the Sharks scoreless in the second half to claim the Division V title on Saturday afternoon at Westmont High School in Campbell. It marked Aragon’s first section title win since 1994.

An assistant coach to Britt Williams the last time Aragon saw section title victory, now-head coach Steve Sell guided the Dons to their first CCS title game for the first time since he took over head coaching duties in 2000. He and this team won his debut in convincing fashion.

The sideline celebrated a moment of history by dumping buckets of ice water over their coach’s head. His wife, Karen, and son, Justin, stormed the field for postgame hugs. Sell got emotional discussing his journey, nearly 30 years in the making, back to section title glory. He praised the team for overcoming the pandemic’s adversity and an 0-2 start to the 2021 season.

But, primarily, he heaped praise on the team leaders who shouldered a 1-9 record in the 2019 season as freshmen and sophomores and helped spin the Dons into a No. 1 seed and title drought-busters.

“They are the best leaders we’ve ever had,” Sell said. “I consult them as much as I consult my assistant coaches. Especially Alan Tanielu and David Fononga.”

That upperclassmen leadership, a deeper playbook and depth helped Aragon erase St. Francis-Watsonville’s 14-10 lead at the half, earned on Sharks tight end Johrdan Garibay’s two touchdowns — a 21-yard touchdown run and an 86-yard kick return. Sell and the team knew they could break it open.

“During halftime you could tell (Sell) was a little stressed because of the score,” said sophomore running back Ivan Nisa. “But once he told us to go and have fun, I don’t think anything else mattered more than the bond we have on the field.”

Tanielu, a senior wide receiver, shined in the title game with two touchdowns in a second half in which Aragon outscored St. Francis-Watsonville 28-0. The first, a trick play in which junior quarterback Dylan Daniel tossed to junior wide receiver Lloyd Walter, who found Tanielu down field for a 37-yard touchdown reception to give Aragon a 17-14 lead.

“Winning the CCS finals, dream come true,” Tanielu said. “Since my sophomore year we always thought about championship, championship is the mindset. Since this offseason, that’s all we talked about. Today is the day we came out with a championship.”

The Dons’ defense extinguished any spark from the worn-out Sharks offense. That included an interception by defensive lineman Ty Faaumu off a tipped pass and a sack and forced fumble by senior lineman Luke Quanbeck that led to Tanielu’s second touchdown, a five-yard rushing touchdown dagger on fourth-and-goal with five minutes left in the fourth quarter to give Aragon a 31-14 lead.

Sell credited defensive coordinator Ashley Parham for knocking through the Sharks’ playbook.

“They couldn’t run their favorite stuff,” Sell said. “The times that they did get plays, they had to keep turning pages in the playbook so we got to their fourth and fifth-favorite plays.”

Both teams found their offense through a ground attack, but Aragon pulled out the more potent rushing attack toward the end with contributors up and down the line.

Nisa ran for 164 yards on 19 carries. Senior running back Solomone Hokafonu rushed for 16 yards on 13 carries, including two touchdowns. Jared Walsh rushed for 74 yards on 17 carries — the junior running back answered St. Francis-Watsonville’s hot start in the first half with a three-yard rushing touchdown on drive that ate up a hearty chunk of the second quarter.

The Sharks threatened to extend their lead at the end of the second quarter after Tanielu had one of two muffed punts on the day. The Sharks recovered the ball at the Aragon 16 with just over three minutes in the half, but senior defensive lineman Albert Zheng intercepted a tipped pass.

It was clear then, Aragon’s depth would help snap the 27-year title drought as CCS champions. Aragon, as a section champion, will be in a NorCal regional next weekend. The CIF will announce the matchups on Sunday.

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Author: Shayna Rubin