HAZELTON — The cast of characters in Valley’s locker room might look different than it did in 2015. But the expectations for this edition of the Vikings remains exactly the same: To be in the championship hunt in late November.
Valley went a perfect 12-0 a season ago en route to a 54-32 blowout win over defending champion Prairie in the 1AD1 state championship game.
But gone is head coach Brian Ayers, who stepped down in the offseason. Also gone is star quarterback Ben Taylor, who threw a staggering 51 touchdowns in 2015 and 96 in his career, earning last year’s Times-News Small School Player of the Year award in the process.
Taylor was one of nine seniors who graduated in the offseason who played a significant role in helping the team average a stunning 64 points per game while surrendering just 15 a contest.
In Ayers’ place as head coach is Ryon Jarvis, who has served as Valley’s offensive coordinator the last two seasons. And though they would have plenty of excuses for not living up to the standard of last year’s team, the Vikings are having none of that.
If things roll the right way, they see no reason why they can’t make it to Holt Arena for a third-straight year.
“My expectations are high. I see no reason that we don’t have an opportunity to play in the last game of the season again,” Jarvis said. “We have to remain healthy. Things have to go together. We have to be a little bit luckier. But you have to do it to get there every year, no matter how talented you are.”
In 2014, Prairie and Valley met in the state title game. Taylor threw five interceptions in a 72-18 loss. He came back the next year in a championship rematch and accounted for six total touchdowns.
But Taylor is now studying at Dixie State and no longer in the Valley locker room. Expected to start under center this year is senior Mike Elorrieta, who mainly played cornerback and tight end for the Vikings last season. Elorrieta did see some time last year at quarterback in mop-up duty. But he isn’t quite the polished player that Taylor was at this point, according to Jarvis.
He doesn’t expect the team to be as drop back oriented in 2016 because of that.
“Let’s just say (Elorietta has) some details to work out,” Jarvis said. “He hasn’t thrown the ball a lot. He hasn’t had to make the reads. So just getting him schooled back up in what that looks like, in making the quick decision and making the right decision.”
A strong group of seniors with a chip on their shoulders from being embarrassed in the 2014 state title game led Valley to redemption in 2015. With those players gone, Jarvis admits the team has a different feel to it.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. This year’s group of Vikings realizes they weren’t the key cogs that delivered the team a state title; the seniors did that. They are cognizant of the fact that they, as Jarvis puts it, “road coattails.”
Now they’re ready to prove themselves in the spotlight.
“The entire dynamic of our team really changed. And so, their attitude last spring was, we kind of know that we rode the coattails of the seniors, but now it’s our time to shine. It’s our time to take over,” said Jarvis. “They understood that the tradition is good, (but) it’s not their tradition. It’s their turn to take it over and it’s their own legacy.”