ARROYO GRANDE -- The Arroyo Grande Eagles had been here before.
Clinching an at-large postseason bid out of the PAC-7 League a year ago, the Eagles rode a lightning-in-the-bottle hot streak all the way to the CIF-Southern Section Western Division final. But in arguably one of the biggest games for the program, the Serra Cavaliers knocked Arroyo Grande off its feet one step shy of making history.
This season, the Eagles made sure that didn't happen again.
"I never did imagine myself being a head coach and leading my team to a CIF championship, " Eagles coach Tom Goossen said after a 42-14 victory over Culver City. "We know that it starts and ends with the players. And they're the ones that did all the work, committed and did everything else."
The victory clinches the fifth title in program history. The Eagles had made two appearances -- in 2000 and 2010 -- in the past 11 years. Neither, however, ended with Arroyo Grande walking away victorious.
On Friday night, with two fists raised to the sky and a Gatorade-drenched blue and yellow windbreaker, Goossen and his team did.
"It's been a long time," Goossen said. "The kids have worked so darn hard."
One kid, in particular, stole the spotlight. Arroyo Grande's 5-foot-7, 145-pound running back Gabe Deleon scored three times -- from 22, 58 and 15 yards in the second half -- turning what was a 21-14 lead at the break to a 42-14 advantage.
"That's the beauty of this," Goossen said. "Everyone knows about our four Division I guys. But who is it carrying the mail there at the very end? Gabe Deleon. One of the biggest hearts on the team, one of the smallest bodies. It could not have happened to a better kid."
The gap was too much for Culver City to overcome, ending their impressive Cinderella-type run through the 2011 postseason. The Centaurs defeated top-seeded Serra by a touchdown in the first round, came back to down Righetti in blowout fashion, 51-28, and then knocked off a Santa Monica team by 31 -- the same one that beat Culver City 17-14 in the regular season.
That all culminated in a 170-mile bus ride north to take on the Eagles for a championship, one that will now feel that much longer on the way back. Arroyo Grande proved to be tough, as they combined for 505 yards of total offense.
Culver City quarterback Lukas O’Connor went 24 for 39 passing with 253 yards and two interceptions.
His counterpart, Arroyo Grande quarterback Brent VanderVeen went 12 for 17 with 303 yards and score -- a 76-yarder to Garrett Owens in the second quarter.