Verdugo Hills survives a valiant Sylmar comeback to triumph 29-20 in the Inaugural CIF Division I Flag Football Championships


In an exciting first season for the growing sport of flag football in the greater Los Angeles area, the scene was set for the grand finale at Birmingham Charter High School for the CIF LA City Division I Championship game on Saturday November 18, 2023. The title game consisted of a matchup between two familiar foes in the Valley Mission League: the Verdugo Hills Dons and the Sylmar Spartans. The Cinderella tenth-seeded Dons lost a close 18-12 contest on their home field to the fifth-seeded Spartans on October 26th.

In front of a locally televised audience along with the crowd at Rick Prizant Stadium, Verdugo Hills avenged their regular season defeat by jumping out to a 29-0 lead with a versatile offensive attack and a stout defense which shut out the Spartans through 30 minutes of gameplay. Sylmar refused to surrender, as their offense caught fire in the last ten minutes of the game with three touchdowns in that time span. Unfortunately for the Spartans, there wasn’t enough time to make up the deficit, as the Dons held on, 29-20 to capture the Inaugural CIF Division I Flag Football Title for their program.

Both teams exchanged punts on their respective opening drives, but the Spartans defense forced an early interception from Verdugo Hills on their following possession. However, on the Spartans’ next play sophomore linebacker Dayami Garcia returned the favor with an interception of her own to set up the Dons in Sylmar territory. Verdugo Hills took advantage of the turnover by getting in the end zone from their first touchdown of the game on a 22-yard reverse handoff to junior Julianna Sarabia to take an 8-0 lead with 11:00 left in the first half.

The defense of the Dons forced consecutive three-and-out possessions from Sylmar, before receiver Lauren Brink tossed a touchdown pass to receiver Emily Wagner to take a 15-0 lead. Not satisfied with the previous touchdown, Wagner showed off her versatility on the defensive side of the ball with an interception to give the Dons their second turnover of the afternoon. A roughing the passer penalty from the Spartans set up the opportunity for Wagner to score her second receiving touchdown to extend Dons’ lead to 23-0 into the halftime break.

Verdugo Hills continued their momentum into the second half, as their offense rewarded a defensive stop with the second touchdown on the outing for Sarabia to go ahead 29-0 with 14:30 left in the game. After being suffocated by the Dons defense for most of the afternoon, Senior Quarterback Lesly Hurtado led the Spartans on their first scoring drive of the afternoon that concluded with a touchdown pass to senior wideout Mia Ceja to make the score 29-7. Similar to Wagner in the first half, Ceja added a takeaway to her touchdown with an interception of her own. Not to be outdone, she completed the trifecta of big plays with her second touchdown of the game from Hurtado to make it a 29-14 deficit with 6:00 left in the contest.

The Spartans defense forced a punt from the Dons offense, but not without Verdugo Hills dwindling the clock down to the 2:25 mark. Sylmar continued to successfully move the ball down the field on Verdugo Hills with Hurtado tossing in her third passing touchdown in as many drives. The Spartans failed to convert the two point conversion, leaving the deficit at two scores, 29-20. With only 1:14 left in the game, there was too little time left on the clock for the Spartans to complete their comeback.

After watching his team hoist the championship trophy, Verdugo Hills head coach Darren Fitzgerald acknowledges the growing buzz around the school’s flag football team. “A lot of girls that wanted to play, but who weren’t sure” he stated, “now they want to play.”

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