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Big Game XLVI

Vintage players hoist the KVON Victory Bell as winners of Big Game XLVI on Friday night.

The scene afterward said it all.

Swarms of Crushers fans flooded the field as the clock hit zero on Big Game XLVI and Vintage had actualized a result it’s been waiting 12 years for in its crosstown series with Napa High. In those familiar red numbers on the scoreboard behind Napa Memorial Stadium’s south end zone, it had the Crushers on top, 14-7.

“It’s a big win for us, it’s a big win for the Vintage community,” said Crushers head coach Dylan Leach. “These guys, the spirit that they have – I’ve been in a few places coaching-wise, and the spirit here is second to none. They put in their time, they put in their effort, and I’m just really excited about this win for our community.”

Isaiah Garcia, the senior quarterback who directed the victory for the home team Friday night, was able to briefly detach from the postgame celebration and soak it all in. In that moment, as he struggled to find the words to describe everything, his awestruck look said enough.

“First time seeing (the crowd storm the field),” he said. “It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

“Since freshman year we’ve been saying, ‘We’re going to win our last game on this field. We’re going to win it, no matter what.’ To go all the way and do it, it’s crazy.”

Based solely on its records, 7-2 overall and 3-1 in the Monticello Empire League, Vintage entered the MEL finale as the favorite. But history certainly encouraged skepticism. Including Friday’s streak buster, the Indians (3-6 overall, 1-3 MEL) lead the all-time series 28-16-2, and have won 14 of the last 16 meetings.

And the 11 consecutive wins coming in represented the most dominant stretch in the rivalry’s history.

But now, at least until next year’s meeting, the narrative surrounding Big Game will be fairly different. Senior running back-linebacker James Robert, the Napa Valley Register’s Vintage Big Game Most Valuable Player, sees that as a good thing – for both teams.

“It’s great because, the past couple years, everybody kind of disregards Vintage and sees Napa as the alpha,” he said. “But now, it’s great to have that competitive kind of atmosphere other than just showing up this Friday night and knowing who’s going to win. It’s great, it’s going to be more exciting, and more people are going to show up. It’s going to bring a lot more to both of the programs.”

For Leach, a Big Game lifer who’s been on both sides of the rivalry, this victory was the culmination of an upward progression that began when he took over the program in spring 2016.

The Crushers went 5-5 his first year, and 3-2 in MEL play. The scores were tighter and the team was visibly more competitive, but the results weren’t enough to confidently sell a revival of Vintage football. The Crushers lost to Woodcreek, they lost to American Canyon by 30, and they were shut out by MEL champion Napa, 35-0.

Within the program, however, the faith continued to rise and, by the final whistle Friday night, there were certainly a few more believers.

On top of a Big Game win this year, Vintage downed American Canyon, beat Woodcreek, and was in the thick of it with Vacaville and Wood despite falling to the respective No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the league.

“They deserve it,” Leach said of his players, “and here’s the beauty of it: the program itself is 21-4-1. That’s all three levels, and the future is bright over here at Vintage High School.”

That sentiment was echoed by the community’s response to their side’s hard-fought win over the Indians. And next week, they’ll be preparing for their first Sac-Joaquin Section playoff game since 2014.

As for the celebration, well, Leach said he’d prefer to keep that on the hush.

“I don’t know if I can say that, but I’m going to have a good time,” he said with a laugh, “and I’m going to go enjoy this with my (players) right now.”

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Sports Reporter

Yousef was a Napa Valley Register sports reporter from February 2015 to April 2018, and hosted the Napa Register Radio podcast. He is a proud UGA graduate and has written for the Sacramento Bee, The Advocate and the Athens Banner-Herald, among others.