Vista Beats Upland to Earn 6th Straight Trip to Finals

Vista Murrieta defensive back Jalen Russell takes off with the football after the first of his two interceptions. Perhaps Jalen Russell ...

Vista Murrieta defensive back Jalen Russell takes off with the football after the first of his two interceptions.

Perhaps Jalen Russell said it best.

"It defines Vista Murrieta Bronco football -- never give up," said the junior defensive back about his team's impressive last two games. "We always fight. No matter if we’re an underdog or the first seed, we always find a way to win.

"We’re never gonna let another team out-effort us. They might have more skill guys, but they’re not gonna out-effort us. And effort wins football games."

That certainly was the case Friday night, when Vista Murrieta High School used its explosive offense to take an early 14-0 lead and used special teams to deny host Upland numerous times in the second half en route to a 24-14 victory in the CIF West Valley Division semifinals.

This victory came just a week after Vista Murrieta (10-2) fought back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to defeat Tesoro 28-27 on the last play of the game. To be sure, the Broncos are on a roll.

Sophomore running back Cole Dubots (27, right) and senior running back Seth Acda (below left) ran for touchdowns and a 14-0 Bronco lead in the first quarter. Top-seeded Upland (9-3) stormed back to tie it at 14-14, however, and it took a 42-yard field goal by Jared Gallegos to put Vista back on top at the half, 17-14.

But it was the heroics of special teams players in the second half that sealed the victory and put the Broncos into their sixth consecutive CIF championship game. They will play Mission Viejo Saturday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. at Angels Stadium.

First it was defensive back and special teams expert Brandon Worthy, who blocked a 40-yard Upland field goal attempt early in the third quarter to preserve the Vista Murrieta lead. But that was only the beginning.

With Upland driving with a chance to take the lead later in the third quarter, Russell outleaped a defender to intercept a long pass from Upland quarterback Tyler Hilinski at the Vista 10-yard line, returning it near midfield.

"I think the receiver had a miscommunication with the quarterback because he stopped running," Russell said. "I had my eyes on the quarterback and went up for it. I broke one tackle but couldn’t go all the way."

He certainly did moments later, however, returning another interception 75 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown and a 24-14 lead. Running at full speed from his defensive position toward the line of scrimmage, Russell picked off the pass and ran untouched to the end zone.

Coach Coley Candaele couldn't say enough about his players' effort after the game.

"Right now, special teams and defense has been holding us in games, but the key was the first quarter, the offense getting two touchdowns," Candaele said. "My worry was how much we really believed. Our offense scoring in the first quarter ... that was huge."

Quarterback Kyle Williams once again ran the offense efficiently, continuing an amazing season in which he was moved from wide receiver to quarterback following an injury to QB Wes Long in the first game of the season.

Then there was Worthy, who now has three blocked punts, a blocked PAT and a blocked field goal this season.

"They were on the left hash and they moved that extra lineman over to the left side so I figured, let’s go from the other side," Worthy said about his block of the field goal attempt. "The wing had to make a decision between me and Dwayne Johnson and luckily I got my arm through and blocked it.

"We practice that stuff for hours. Defense wins championships but I think special teams can, too. They can totally make a difference in big ballgames like this."

Jared Gallegos' 42-yard field goal just before halftime gave Vista Murrieta the lead for good.

Defensive standout Jalen Russell is interviewed by a Fox Sports broadcaster after the game.

Vista Murrieta coach Coley Candaele addresses the team after another big victory.


Vista Murrieta High School 2525186729609867863

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