CANYON COUNTRY – Valencia running back Steven Manfro has been a force on offense and special teams all year. In his team’s Foothill League game against Canyon, Manfro was asked to play some defense and he came up big again.
Manfro scored four touchdowns and rushed for 193 yards in Valencia’s 52-31 win over Canyon on Friday night at Canyon High School.
But it was his play on defense that allowed Valencia, the No. 16 team in the ESPNLA.com top 25 rankings, to pull away in the second half and turn an otherwise close game into a bit of a blowout.
After the game Manfro said Canyon was the best team Valencia has faced. That’s saying something since Valencia (6-1) has played Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Loyola and Birmingham already.
Canyon (6-1) came into the game with an undefeated record and plenty of fight. It was a four-point game midway through the third quarter, with Valencia up 35-31, before Valencia clamped down on the pesky Canyon offense and started pulling away.
Manfro had a big part in some of the defensive stops Valencia made in the second half.
He was asked to cover Canyon receiver Drew Wolitarsky, who caught seven passes for 181 yards and scored on a 79-yard touchdown pass from Jonathan Jerozal in the first half. Wolitarsky did most of his damage in the first half with four catches – sometimes while double-covered -- for 143 yards.
Manfro was able to disrupt some of the pass attempts to Wolitarsky and keep him from making big plays.
“Drew is an awesome player,” said Valencia coach LarryMuir. “We needed to make some adjustments.”
Meanwhile on offense, Manfro chewed up yardage and the clock by rushing for 112 yards on nine carries in the second half. He also caught six passes for 77 yards.
Manfro scored the first touchdown of the game with 2:29 to play in the first quarter. He ran the ball in from 6 yards out to give Valencia a 7-3 lead.
Valencia scored 21 points in the second quarter to take a 28-17 lead. Manfro scored two touchdowns in the second quarter. The first was on a 39-yard pass from quarterback Alex Bishop. The second was on a 4-yard run with 1:17 to play in the first half.
Manfro came a yard away of scoring five touchdowns. He ripped off a 25-yard run to the Canyon 1-yard line in the third quarter, but fumbled as he tried to extend his arms and reach the goal line. His Valencia teammate, Blake Anthony, recovered the fumble in the end zone for the touchdown. Anthony also caught a touchdown pass from Bishop in the third quarter.
Bishop was 18 of 20 passing for 317 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 15 passes in a row to end the game and scored on a 2-yard keeper in the fourth quarter.
Manfro capped his night of scoring with a 50-yard touchdown run with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Canyon matched Valencia, touchdown for touchdown, even field goal for field goal, for three quarters. But turnovers proved to be too costly for Canyon. Jerozal threw two interceptions, one on the Valencia goal line that Edmund Darko returned 100 yards for a touchdown. But the touchdown was called back because of a personal foul and Valencia took over on the 50-yard line. Two plays later, Manfro scored from midfield.
Valencia also recovered a fumbled pass on the first play of the game to take over on its own 40-yard line. Canyon came up with a clutch defensive stand of its own and took over on downs, keeping Valencia out of the end zone.
While Canyon committed three turnovers, Valencia committed none.
“You can’t give Bishop and Manfro any more chances than you have to,” said Canyon coach Chris Varner.
Manfro has scored 30 touchdowns in seven games. He has 21 rushing touchdowns, seven receiving touchdowns and two kickoff returns for touchdowns. If he gets a chance to play more defense, he might add an interception return for touchdown before the season is over.
“He’s a football player and a good football player,” Muir said. “It’s a tribute to him. He adapts to the game. He’s going to adjust to it.”