Corona girls flag football team beats Norco, secures first Big VIII League championship – Press Enterprise
NORCO — Throwing an interception on her first pass of the game certainly was not the start Victoria Aguilar envisioned.
Fortunately for Aguilar, it was the only real mistake she made Monday night.
Aguilar shook off that early miscue and fired a career-high six touchdowns, including five to freshman Ava Liaga, during the championship game of the Big VIII League’s inaugural girls flag football tournament. Aguilar also intercepted two passes, taking one back for a touchdown, as Corona placed an exclamation point on an unbeaten league championship with a 44-19 victory over Norco.
“I just took and deep breath and made sure it didn’t stay in my head,” Aguilar said about throwing that interception.
After starting the game 3 for 8, Aguilar completed her final 10 passes and finished with 131 yards through the air while adding another 59 yards on the ground. The senior has thrown 62 touchdown passes in 21 games.
“I just told Tori not to worry about that first throw. Things like that are going to happen,” Panthers coach Jim Bowers said. “What we do after that is going to be what makes us league champs.
“Her understanding of this system and trusting in the process as our quarterback really helped us get here. She got better and better each game. I’m extremely proud of her.”
Monday night’s championship match was a full circle moment for these two teams. This is the first year flag football is an official CIF Southern Section sport, and Corona and Norco played the Inland area’s first game back on Aug. 21.
Norco (11-6 overall, 4-3 in league) had a dream start Monday. The Cougars had the opening possession of the game and needed only four plays to take a 7-0 lead. Mya Arriola connected with Josie Ray for a 23-yard touchdown to kick things off.
Aguilar tried to float a pass over the middle, but the ball was picked off by Isabella Ray. Aguilar’s teammates had her back, however, as Jada Fink intercepted a pass from Arriola on the next play from scrimmage. Aguilar ran twice for 22 yards on the ensuing drive and then hit Liaga for a 2-yard touchdown on fourth down to help the Panthers draw level.
A pivotal sequence occurred later in the first half, with two calls proving flag football also can come down to a matter of inches.
Norco was stopped just short of the goal line in an effort to retake the lead. Corona faced a fourth-and-goal situation 6 minutes later, This time, the officials ruled Liaga broke the plain before her flag was pulled, and the Panthers surged ahead.
Corona (16-5, 7-0) then extended its lead to 26-7 in a matter of minutes. Aguilar and Liaga connected for a third time (17 yards), and two plays later, Aguilar registered her second interception of the game and returned it 32 yards for another score.
Norco got some momentum going into halftime, as Arriola threw a 4-yard touchdown to Josie Ray as time expired.
“We never stopped battling, but it’s hard playing catch-up to a team like Corona,” Norco’s Wade Lockett said.
Bowers has played things close to vest during league games, but he opened up his playbook for the championship game. Liaga added two more touchdown catches in the second half and finished with nine receptions for 91 yards.
“I have all the respect in the world for Norco and coach Lockett,” Bowers said. “He has film on us, and he’s a smart guy. We had to try some different things… Today, they didn’t know what direction we were coming from.”
Bowers, who also is Corona’s wrestling coach, was in the hospital for four days with a knee infection and was not sure if he would be able to coach Monday. Bowers sent a group text to his players last week informing them of his potential absence.
“I replied, ‘No, you have to be there! I need someone to yell at me and help keep my head in the game,’” Aguilar said.
Bowers was released from the hospital Friday evening, but he was walking with a noticeable limp Monday evening.
“I wasn’t going to miss this one,” Bowers said. “We have come too far as a team for me not to be here for them.”
Corona rallied for a 41-40 win over Roosevelt in the semifinals last week, but the Panthers left zero doubt Monday.
“It’s an amazing feeling being able to say we’re the first ones to win a Big VIII League championship,” said junior wide receiver and linebacker Fia Liaga, Ava’s sister and a team captain. “We came out here today and definitely showed what we can do.”
Corona’s Jestinah Solumua ran for 28 yards and also caught four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown (18 yards).
Arriola completed 15 of 30 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns. Josie Ray was the favored target Monday, as she caught all three touchdown passes from Arriola and finished the evening with six catches for 87 yards for the Cougars.
“These girls showed great heart at character all season,” Lockett said. “I can’t ask for much more than that as a coach.”
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