Vanden QB saves best for last

Tre Dimes would like to apologize to Vanden High School football fans for taking so long to get his act together Saturday night. Adrenaline and nerves got the best of the quarterback through the first three quarters of the state Division 3-AA championship game. And Aquinas did not do the junior any favors by flushing him out of the pocket and forcing him to throw on the run.

His yellow mouthpiece with black fangs absorbed the brunt of Dimes’ frustration. He chewed on it like a cow chomping on cud. The Vikings trailed 13-0 entering the fourth quarter after averaging 58 points in four playoff games. Dimes had thrown four or more touchdown passes in six consecutive games.

Vanden did not need 58 points or four touchdown passes from Dimes to win its first state championship. All the Vikings had to do was keep the faith in their quarterback because he has rarely let them down. Dimes regained his mojo in the final seven minutes to lead Vanden to a thrilling 14-13 victory.

“He’s our No. 1 on offense,” guard Blake Waldrop said of Dimes. “He gets us going.”

Vacaville has been the only team to hold Vanden to fewer than 20 points this season in posting a 35-17 victory Oct. 15 that propelled the Bulldogs to the Monticello Empire League title. Once that crown slipped through the Vikings’ fingers, they set their sights on bringing home the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title. They got it by mauling Merced 49-21 in Stockton and then rolled to a 56-21 rout at Windsor in the Northern California Regional.

Nothing was that easy against Aquinas.

Time was running out on the Vikings when Dimes broke the goose egg by lofting a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jamai East with 6:31 to play. Aquinas was forced to punt on its ensuing possession after Vanden linebacker Orion Null broke into the backfield to take down Jusyis Solis on third-and-7.

“The pressure was on,” Null said as he was mobbed by his family on the field after the game. “I had to do my job and make a play.” Not only did his play force Aquinas to relinquish the ball, but it also allowed Vanden to avoid using its last two timeouts on defense to save precious seconds for the offense.

East’s first touchdown came on a fade pattern to the right corner of the end zone. His second with 1:08 to play epitomized his connection with Dimes. East drove cornerback Cesar Fernandez into the end zone, stopped on a dime as Fernandez was still backpedaling and broke left. Dimes rolled to his right, planted his back foot and fired a strike to East to tie the score.

Diego Nunez-Smith followed with the biggest extra-point kick in the history of high school extra-point kicks to put Vanden ahead. East sealed the deal for the Vikings with an interception. And by the way, he also blocked the Falcons’ extra-point attempt after their second touchdown in the third quarter.

Daniel Hughes’ helmet

Dimes is at his best when he can set his feet and unleash his right arm. The Falcons made every effort to not let that happen during the first 36 minutes by putting pressure right in Dimes’ face. Dimes showed signs of panic by not keeping his eyes on his receivers and instead looking to see what trouble was coming his way. Dimes was sacked six times in the first three quarters and bounced a few passes as if he was playing point guard in basketball.

Offensive coordinator Joel “Blue” Isaac had to find a way to snap Dimes out of his funk, so he took the quarterback aside on the sideline for a face-to-face conversation. Had Isaac been chewing gum, Dimes would have known the flavor.

“I told him there’s 11 guys on the field. It’s not all on your shoulders,” Isaac said. “I knew he knew it, but I just reiterated it.”

A 13-0 deficit in a state championship game is nothing compared to the loss the Vikings suffered last April when junior Daniel Hughes died after a shooting. The Vikings will never forget how hard Hughes worked and how he demanded everyone else wearing a jersey to do the same. There was no quit in Hughes, so the Vikings refuse to surrender even when it appears all is lost.

“Daniel never stopped fighting no matter what the score was,” Dimes said. “We had to fight through this game. He would be so proud of us.”

That he is.

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