May 24, 2024

Since Simi Valley High opened its doors in 1920, there never was a section championship football team — until this season.

Under coach Jim Benkert, the Pioneers won the Southern Section Division 6 championship with a 44-38 overtime win over Mira Costa in which running back Brice Hawkins scored after the stadium lights went out for 20 minutes to produce a dramatic, unforgettable ending to a dream season.

Benkert won titles while coaching at Westlake and Oaks Christian, but after getting hired at Simi Valley in 2018, expectations were not high.

Benkert brought in top assistants, such as his longtime friend, Richard Fong, and went to work. It culminated with a group of 47 players finding a way to win a championship and generate excitement, such as quarterback Jesse Sereno scoring from the one-yard line on the final play to beat Huntington Beach in the Division 6 semifinals.

“It was so gratifying,” Benkert said. “I’m so proud of these kids.”

Benkert has been selected The Times’ coach of the year. He has 302 career victories, putting himself in future Hall of Fame territory.

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