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Column: Surprise, surprise: Chaminade plays for the football championship of Division 2

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To understand how unlikely it is to see West Hills Chaminade (7-5) play Friday night for the Southern Section Division 2 football championship against the top ranked Chatsworth Sierra Canyon (12-1), you must go back to August when signs of demise were everywhere.

During a scrimmage against Harbor City Narbonne, while the Eagles were blown away for attack and defense, thoughts of a 0-10 season were mentioned.

After losing to start the season against Westlake Village Oaks Christian and Lancaster Paraclete, coach Ed Croson offered this assessment to his assistant coaches for a game against Lake Balboa Birmingham: "If we lose tonight, we won't win a game."

"That's what it looked like back then," Croson said earlier this week.

Chaminade defeated Lake Balboa Birmingham 41-14 and started a remarkable turn-around that testifies to coaching staff, players getting better every week and the dedication of everyone to focus on what they can control.

"Nobody came down on themselves and we started working really hard in practice," said junior quarterback Jaylen Henderson. “As a leader, when things didn't look up, I encouraged my teammates to dig deep and push harder. We showed tenacity through all setbacks. "

Croson, who won four city coaching titles in Birmingham, was in a position he had not been in for 40 years. Six first-year students and twelve second-year students were forced to take an important role and Croson did not know how they would respond. He said it brought back memories of 1979 when he was the junior varsity coach in Panorama City St. Genevieve under the legendary Lindon Crow.

"We played children who were not ready," he said. "They were small and they were 15."

Chaminade went back to basics and kept things simple.

"They were so young," Croson said. "We are not even in our normal playbook and it is game 13. You can only stack on what children can absorb. We have no choice."

Henderson is one of the most prominent leaders for the Eagles. He came from Narbonne last spring after starting the first five games for the Gauchos until All-City quarterback Jake Garcia took over. Henderson is 16 and has improved steadily.

“I started to read the defense better. My bag consciousness got better, & he said.

Henderson has passed almost 2500 meters and 19 touchdowns. Willy Camacho walked back from Mission Hills Bishop Alemany, where he was to be a backup. He had six touchdowns in a play-off win over Norco.

Freshman receiver Ian Duarte came to Chaminade, known for his baseball skills, but is a phenomenon in football after being placed in the line-up halfway through the season. He averages 23.3 meters per catch. "He has had a huge impact," Henderson said.

Isaac Gallegos, a safety, earned a prize for a top tackler. "He's just dominated in the defense," Croson said.

Punter Jack Stonehouse, a junior and sophomore kicker Chase Meyer have been striking results as he repeatedly rescued the Eagles with clutching efforts.

Lineman JP Reilly has bullied people on insult and defense.

Yes, Chaminade got a goodbye in the final because San Clemente was removed from the playoffs on Tuesday due to having an unsuitable player. But the Eagles were full and ready to go to San Clemente on Friday, while a judge decided whether the Tritons ban would apply. Croson ordered chicken from Costco which would be served to the players for a team dinner.

"The food is being cooked," he said Friday morning, not knowing whether his team would board the bus at noon.

The chicken dinner was canceled after the game was canceled. It was such a season for the Eagles. They go with the flow.

"This has been a weird year," said Croson.

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