Jason Bornn was one of the few people on the Saugus High sideline Friday who remembered what it felt like the last time the Centurions beat Valencia, finished a season undefeated and won a Foothill League title.
He was the coach when all three of things happened in 2008.
They happened again Friday, when Bornn and Saugus rode two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from senior quarterback Colton Fitzgerald to a 21-7 win at Valencia, snapping the Vikings’ league winning streak at 46 games and ending their string of consecutive Foothill titles at 11.
“It’s a special, special thing,” Bornn said, noting that his upperclassmen not only overcame a pandemic that threatened, then delayed, the season but also a deadly campus shooting following the end of a 2019 season in which the Centurions went 1-4 in league and finished a game out of the cellar.
“The fact that we were able to keep these kids together for as long as we did, keep them focused, keep them motivated, keep them engaged, it’s one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do.
“Then again, anything worth having in life, you’re going to have to go through heartaches to get it.”
Few people know that better than Fitzgerald, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, in the seventh grade. Fitzgerald credits the experience with making him mentally tough, and that toughness was tested again Friday against a Valencia defense that limited him to short throws and screen passes in an even first half.
A Valencia fumble on the Vikings’ second possession set up Saugus near midfield and the Centurions took advantage, with Fitzgerald hitting senior senior Hunter Girch on a crossing pattern on a third-and-15 play. Girch did the rest, breaking a tackle and dashing to the end zone to complete a 40-yard scoring play, the longest gain of the night for either team.
Valencia matched that in the second quarter but the play proved costly with sophomore Daniel Hernandez injuring his right shoulder on a bruising 17-yard scoring run. Hernandez, who led the Vikings in rushing yards and touchdowns this season, came off the field favoring his right arm and after an examination on the sidelines, a trainer pulled off his pads, ending his night.
That also put a plug in the Valencia offense, allowing Saugus to dominate the second half. But the Centurions didn’t take control on the scoreboard until early in the fourth period when Fitzgerald found Khai Ky-Yeith on a fade in the corner of the end zone, capping an eight-play 45-yard drive that gave Saugus a 14-7 lead.
Fitzgerald would complete the scoring with 5:11 left in his high school career, gathering a poor snap, rolling to his right and lofting a pass toward the goal line for tight end Dario Sandoval, who caught the ball short of the end zone but bulled his way.
“It was exciting to see him do the things he did,” Bornn said. “But it was a team effort. Everybody performed. Everybody stepped up. Everybody did what they needed to do.”
Fitzgerald completed 17 of 28 passes for 178 yards and the three scores. For the season he threw for 1,184 yards and 13 touchdowns without an interception.
Saugus then put the game away with less than two minutes to play, stopping Valencia quarterback Trevor Voss on a fourth-down scramble inside the Centurions’ 10 on the Vikings’ final possession. Valencia (4-1), which opened its abbreviated five-game season by scoring 136 points combined in wins over West Ranch and Canyon ended it with two touchdowns and 16 points in its final two games.
After Fitzgerald took a knee for the final time and the clock raced toward triple zeroes, players on the Saugus sideline — many of whom hadn’t started kindergarten the last time the school beat Valencia — threw their helmets in their air and danced on to the field as an assistant coach held his cell phone aloft, recording the celebration.
“Seniors, we’ve been through a lot,” a hoarse Bornn told the team afterward. “And this is a very special class and team. I’m so proud of you guys to stick it out. I know there were some dark days.
“This is the culmination of that. You guys will remember this as long as you live.”
Bornn should know. He still remembers the last time it happened.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.