Sean Murphy got into education to teach, to be a mentor like those who mentored him when he attended Vanden High School in Solano County.
Then he got into coaching, and then he got hooked.
Murphy on Saturday afternoon at Hughes Stadium basked in the glow of another championship, the coach getting doused with a celebratory victory bath of ice water, not minding it one bit, and then getting emotional as he told his charges how proud he was.
Relying on experience, defense and just enough points, Vanden repeated as Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion with a hard-earned 10-6 defeat of upstart Capital Christian to move to 5-0 all-time in section title games.
Fifteen starters returned from last year’s team, one that went on to win a CIF state crown, and the goal from Day 1 was to repeat. Vanden scored on an 8-yard touchdown run by Elijah Fisherman in the first quarter and a 26-yard field goal by Rafael Ortiz-Velez with 1:37 left in the half, and then the Vikings hung on for dear life.
Vanden senior linebacker Devin Martin sealed it with a late interception near midfield. He was so uncertain about what to do with the ball that he took a knee before racing into the open arms of giddy teammates and coaches. The Vikings moved to 12-1 on the season and now await Sunday’s CIF announcement to find out who they will play in the Northern California Regional finals.
“Everyone says I’ve got the worst hands,” Martin said. “I didn’t want to fumble it away.”
Back to the coach. Murphy is the calming influence on a Vanden team full of excitable players. He wants his players to play with emotion, to care, but to play within reason. For two seasons now, that’s what’s happened. Every season is different, the coach said, with so many roads and challenges to conquer.
“I just love the journey,” Murphy said. “Every year, that journey is a little different. This has been a challenging one for us. We’re so excited to celebrate this.”
As for team experience, headed by four-year varsity quarterback Tre Dimes, the coach said, “We had 15 starters back and a lot of alums came by to talk to the team this week at practice. I definitely feel like we weren’t as nervous in this game as we were last year. That was a big difference.”
That Capital Christian made it this far is a credit to spirited coach Saul Patu. After overcoming a 1-5 start amid a brutal schedule with a young team trying to find its way, the Cougars (7-6) came roaring into the weekend with a six-game winning streak, including three road playoff victories. They reached their fifth title game and their first since 2018, when they won a D-III banner.
Patu praised Vanden, his own team and the gritty efforts of all the players, including junior quarterback Eddie Brusuelas and senior playmaking star Kanye Clark. Those two hooked up for a nifty 59-yard touchdown strike to pull to within 10-6 with 6:07 left, but the point-after kick was blocked. Two Capital Christian field goals also missed. It was that kind of day for the Cougars.
Clark electrified on a 47-yard punt return down to the Vanden 5 with 2:03 to go, but the play was negated by a penalty.
“Our kids fought hard,” Patu said of the game and season. “They fought through a lot of adversity this season. These guys are champs. I can see Vanden taking it all the way and winning the whole thing again. Great opponent. We’re going to celebrate our kids and celebrate what this season represented.”
On the speedy and skilled Clark, the coach said, “Great person, player, student. We use the term ‘student-athlete’ and he is that. He’s got a 4.0 GPA. He’s a heck of a player. He can make anything happen when he touches the ball.”