ANAHEIM — Dave White held tight to the championship plaque as he stood, beaming, on the postgame podium set up at midfield at Angel Stadium late Friday night.
"This one's for you," the Edison football coach repeated in a joyful shout directed at his players, a jubilant group that had created a massive huddle in front of their coach.
"This one," White later said, was for the entire Edison community. The Chargers had just finished off Villa Park, 28-10, to claim the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division championship before a crowd of more than 9,000. It was the first Southern Section title in 27 years for the program since it shared the 1985 Big Five crown with Long Beach Poly. It was the school's first outright title since 1980, and fifth, overall.
"You could say the monkey's off my back," said White who finally won the title.
The veteran coach, in his 27th year at his alma mater, has taken Edison to four championship game appearances since 2001.
"I'm just so happy for these kids that they are CIF champions," he said. "They worked hard for this. We were challenged early tonight but we've been a fourth quarter team all year. I'm just so proud of these guys and our coaches, and happy for our fans."
Top-seeded Edison, ranked No. 1 throughout most of the season in its initial year in the Southwest Division, wore down third-seeded Villa Park as the game itself wore on. The Chargers won their 10th straight game and are 13-1 overall. They could land a berth in the CIF State Bowl series next weekend.
For now, though, the Chargers were in the moment, soaking up what they had just accomplished.
"This feels so great," senior defensive end and fullback Derek Baljeu said. "We've been working hard since Day 1 for this, striving for this, and now we have a championship."
Edison trailed early in the game, 7-0, but scored the next 21points to grab control. The Chargers took command behind a little of everything from both sides of the ball.
Offensively, mistakes prevented the Chargers from sustaining any type of momentum in the opening half. The Chargers turned the ball over on their first possession of the game and went three and out on their other two possessions of the first quarter. They managed just 119 yards of offense in the opening half. In the second half, however, the Chargers controlled the ball and rode the legs of senior quarterback Aleksander Torgersen.
The Chargers also had a boost on offense with the return of leading rusher Marquis Ross. The senior started and played his first game since suffering a knee strain in the first half of the Huntington Beach game on Nov. 2.
The Edison defense, as has been the case the entire season, was outstanding once again. It contained Villa Park's run game for most of the night. The Chargers, who have a school-record five shutouts this year, came up with four interceptions and registered a pair of safeties. Senior linebacker Trenton Aschoff was among several Chargers to turn in an outstanding performance in the final.
The Spartans, who had a 10-game win streak snapped and finished 12-2, both losses coming to Edison, scored their only touchdown on a short field after recovering an Edison fumble at the Chargers 26. Five plays later, senior running back and leading rusher Meki Tafuna scored on a 10-yard run to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead five minutes into the game.
Villa Park, which came into the game averaging 32.6 points, led, 7-2, after one quarter. Edison's first points came on a safety. A snap from center was low and the ball skipped along the ground and through the legs of Spartans punter Jacob Sanders. The ball rolled into the end zone and Sanders gave a quick, soccer-style kick without picking up the ball. It rolled about 10 yards up field and out of bounds but the officials ruled the play a safety.
A 23-yard field goal by Hunter Kelley with 7:40 left in the first half drew the Chargers to within 7-5. Two plays later, junior cornerback Jeremy Maxwell intercepted a Dylan Osborne pass when he stepped in front of intended receiver Dustin Harrison at the Edison 43. Maxwell returned the pick 29 yards down to the Villa Park 28. Five plays later, senior running back Donald Rice took a pitch around left end and went into the end zone from a yard out on fourth down. Kelley added the conversion and the Chargers went in front for the first time, and for good, 12-7, with 4:27 left in the half.
"I thought we did a good job of adjusting in the second half," White said. "We made too many mistakes in the first half and couldn't get anything going. We had penalties, we dropped balls. I thought we did a much better job of taking care of the game in the second half.
"Alek [Torgersen] can run the ball and we lived on his legs in the second half. Our offensive line did a great job and our defense was amazing. We didn't give [the Spartans] much."
Edison took further control by taking the second half kickoff in for its next score. Senior running back/linebacker Elijah Herrera returned the second half kickoff 42 yards out to the Edison 45. Torgersen had two big gains on keepers to keep the drive alive including one on a fourth-down play. On the play, he scrambled and eluded an oncoming rush, then broke free of a foot hold grasp by Tafuna to make a six-yard gain for a first down at the Villa Park 20.
On the next play, Torgersen hit a wide open Markus Boyer at the 15, and the senior tight end went untouched to the end zone. Kelley's kick put the Chargers on top, 19-7.