DIVISION III FOOTBALL: Saints hope third time’s the charm in title game

The Mountain View football team hopes to achieve a goal that’s been on the radar of several senior players since they played flag football together in middle school: win a state championship.

The Saints (10-1) will get their third opportunity in four years when they face Yerington (10-0) in the Division III state championship at 1:05 p.m. Saturday at Damonte Ranch High in Reno.

“I think playing together helped a lot because we’ve gotten to know how each other play,” senior Matthew Larson said. “We know what each other can do to help out the team, (and) we’ve learned to come together as a team and play our best.”

His fellow seniors agreed.

“I think it helps us play better together (now),” said senior lineman Ivaylo Iliev, who recalled winning the flag football championship in middle school at Mountain View. “It gives us a lot more chemistry. We feed off of each other big time. Somebody makes a big play, it gets all of us going. We’re more about teamwork than anything.”

Mountain View coach Mike Valenzuela remembers watching his current players back when they were on the Saints’ flag football team.

“This group has been around and played together since they were in seventh and eighth grade,” said Valenzuela, who’s in his seventh year. “That has been the goal, to win a state title.

“I got to watch the majority of these kids in fifth and sixth grade. They were a good group of kids. I knew they were special then. It’s been the same kids making the same plays. It’s been fun watching them mature and grow together as friends and teammates.”

Mountain View almost reached its goal twice in recent years, losing in the title game in 2010 and 2012.

This year’s senior-filled team feels they can win it, and would love to go out on top.

“A win would mean the world to us,” Iliev said. “We’ve been there twice together as a family. It was tough, but third time’s the charm.”

The Saints will be led by a heavy rushing attack featuring the Division III Player of the Year Larson, and Jacob Duldulao, who finished First Team All-Southern League at tailback.

Larson accounted for 1,142 yards rushing, 267 yards receiving and 16 total touchdowns, and Duldulao added 681 rushing yards and eight scores.

Quarterback Ian Locke has been just a dual threat, passing for 947 yards and 10 TDs, and rushing for 849 more and 13 TDs.

Coach Valenzuela thinks the junior might be the X-factor.

“Duldulao and Larson get a lot of attention,” Valenzuela said. “People tend to forget about Locke, and he makes some key plays. Ian Locke’s a gamer. He’s a competitive kid.”

Noah Van Kempen said a victory on Saturday would mean a lot to him in his last year.

“It would be the best feeling ever,” Van Kempen said. “Just having that ring, I can’t think of a greater feeling than going out like that.”