By Tim Meehan
MURRIETA — Tough losses can deflate a football team and ruin a season. Six weeks ago, Linfield trudged off the field following a 30-20 loss at Aquinas that ruined a potential perfect season.
But something else happened that night.
Linfield learned it truly had the heart of a Lion.
Linfield completed its comeback Saturday from the jaws of defeat last month with a 70-32 demolition of Artesia in the CIF Division 12 Championship held at Murrieta Mesa that signaled the program’s second-ever title.
The Lions can officially be crowned kings.
“It’s a culmination of the hard work of the guys,” Linfield head coach DeChon Burns said. “I’m really numb right now. It’s here. The ever-elusive CIF Championship is now here and it’s surreal. I don’t even know if it’s hit me yet. I’m just more proud of the guys and their resiliency and their understanding that if you take care of business, you’ll be successful.”
Linfield will be awaiting its opponent when the brackets are announced Sunday for the California State Bowl Championships.
The Lions (13-1) got contributions from all over the place, particularly in putting up 70 points. Senior running back Kenric Jameison had 229 yards on 18 carries with three touchdowns. Senior quarterback Kaleb Maresh was 11 of 14 for 140 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Travion Brown. Backup tailback Crispin Wong was outstanding with 134 yards on just 10 carries. He scored four times, including the game’s final three touchdowns to put it out of reach.
Jameison got the Lions on the board with a 71-yard touchdown run after Artesia (10-4) scored on its third play from scrimmage.
“We’re a really high-powered offensive team so when our line is giving us the time to do what we have to do, the skill players just do our thing,” said Jameison, who went over the 2,000-yard mark on the season and now has 29 touchdowns on the season. “That’s all we can really ask for.”
Brown had four catches for 64 yards as he twice beat one-on-one coverage for touchdowns in the second and fourth quarters.
“We just worked hard in the offseason and it paid off tonight,” Brown said. “It’s a team effort. (Maresh) put the ball in a spot where I wouldn’t get hit. The linemen blocked to give him time. It all played well together and the results showed up.”
The Linfield defense came up big on a night it faced its toughest challenge. The Artesia one-two punch of quarterback Heder Gladden and running back Travys Davis was outstanding. Davis had 214 yards on 23 carries and Gladden rushed 24 times for 129 yards. But the duo came in with 54 rushing touchdowns on the season, and the Lions held them to just three scores on the ground.
“Getting it to where it was close and not going into the tank,” Burns said of the Pioneers keeping it close through two and a half quarters. “They hit us with a couple big ones early and they were busts. We were busting mentally and not doing the things we were supposed to do. So it was focus and finish. Get back to doing what we do.”
Artesia twice got to within 10 or less, but the big-play Lions offends never relented.
After a 72-yard Davis touchdown in the second quarter, Maresh floated a perfect pass to Colin Maher for an 18-yard touchdown and a 36-20 lead.
Gladden ran it in from 1 yard out early in the third quarter, but Jameison made the stop on the two-point conversion attempt then scored himself from 2 yards out on a nearly 7-minute scoring drive.
Brown followed that with a 24-yard scoring catch from Maresh for a 50-26 lead.
Not to be overlooked was the job the Lions defense did to contain Artesia’s high-powered offense. Jake Martinez had two sacks, tackle Coby Nile had an interception off a Brown tip, and Brown himself had five tackles and two tackles for loss.
It’s that hunger to succeed, that drive to win that brought the Lions back to this point after the loss to Aquinas.
“We quickly put that loss in the past and focused on going 1-0 each week,” Jameison said. “You won some, you lose some. When you lose, you learn from it. We didn’t take that as a loss, we took that as a learning experience.”