VALENCIA, Calif. -- Jared Baker ran just about wherever he wanted Friday.
Up the middle and through the tackles of would-be defensive linemen and linebackers. To the outside and past the outstretched arms of opposing cornerbacks and safeties. It didn't matter who, or what, was in his way, it was Baker‘s night.
The senior running back was seemingly unstoppable, rushing for 240 yards on 20 carries and four touchdowns to help guide Los Angeles Loyola to a 39-24 nonleague upset over host Valencia, No. 8 in ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Top 25 rankings.
“Valencia came into this game with the momentum, no one gave us much of a chance to win, everyone thought that we were going to lose,’’ said Baker, who’s committed to Arizona State. “We came out fired up. We were confident and wanted to prove that we can hang with some of the best teams out there.“
The Cubs (3-3) did just that, opening up a 22-7 lead late in the first half and then holding off numerous comeback efforts from Valencia (4-1).
Trailing by 15 points midway through the fourth quarter, the Vikings attempted one last rally. They moved the ball with relative ease and Steven Manfro scored on a 2-yard touchdown run up the middle. All of a sudden, the Cubs advantage wasn’t as decisive and Valencia trailed 32-24 with 7:23 left.
Baker, however, changed all of that when he scored on a 56-yard touchdown run with 3:28 left. Valencia never managed to recover from the game-changing scoring jaunt, it was a back-breaker.
“Loyola is great program, we knew that this game was going to be tough, and really, we couldn’t stop Baker tonight,‘’ Valencia quarterback Alex Bishop said. “They just wanted it more than us. We have a lot to learn from the game. It wasn’t our best effort, but believe me, we will be back. We won’t give up.’’
The Vikings narrowly avoided disaster toward the end of the third quarter. Joel Ledezma intercepted a Bishop pass, but Loyola came away empty when Conrad Ukropina missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt in the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they wouldn’t be as lucky the next time around. Following a poor punt and a costly penalty, the Cubs took over on Valencia’s half of the field. Baker ended up scoring on a 14-yard touchdown run to give Loyola a 32-17 lead with 9:23 left on the fourth quarter clock.
“I had some great blocking tonight,’’ Baker said. “My lineman did a great job at the point of attack and my receivers made good blocks at the second level. Everything came together for me tonight. I felt good out there.’’
The Vikings' Trevor Smyth suffered what appeared to be a stinger injury midway through the fourth quarter. As a result, the senior linebacker was taken off the field on a stretcher as a precautionary measure.
Valencia opened the second half with a sense of urgency, Manfro in particular. He picked up 73 yards on the ground to help move the ball deep into Loyola territory. Brandon Wikler followed with a 28-yard field goal and the Vikings trailed 25-17 with 5:39 remaining in the third quarter.
The Vikings appeared somewhat lackadaisical in the first half, particularly on defense, and Tyler McBride nearly made them pay. The senior running back took off on what appeared to be a 66-yard run, but a holding penalty nullified the gain. Minutes later, Baker scored on a 53-yard touchdown run to give the Cubs a 15-7 advantage with 5:58 left in the second quarter.
The Cubs weren’t quite done either as their special-teams unit delivered a big play with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. Valencia had a punt blocked and the ball was scooped up by Bercut Smith and returned 15 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 22-7 with 1:54 left on the first half clock.
With little or no momentum, the Vikings drove the length of the field and scored before the break. Bishop found Tedric Thompson on 14-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the first half to cut the deficit to 22-14 at intermission.
Valencia attempted a trick play in the opening minutes of the second quarter, but things backfired. After taking a handoff from Bishop, Manfro attempted a pass downfield. Chaz Anderson, however, stepped in front of the throw and returned the interception 23 yards down to the Valencia 14-yard line.
Two plays later, Loyola capitalized on the good field position. Baker scored on a 4-yard touchdown run and the Cubs took an 8-7 lead on Ukropina’s run for the two-point conversion with 11:17 remaining in the first half.
It didn’t take long for Valencia to put points on the board. Following the opening kickoff, the Vikings went 75 yards in 2:02 seconds and the statement making drive was capped on a 1-yard touchdown run by Manfro.
Bishop finished 21 of 23 for 321 yards but his two interceptions proved to be costly. Manfro didn't have his best game but still gained 124 yards on 13 carries. Blake Anthony added six receptions for 152 yards.