When West Ranch football was moved from Division 9 to Division 6 prior to this prep football season, coach Chris Varner was a little surprised. He didn’t understand how his team, which didn’t make the CIF-Southern Section Division 9 playoffs in the 2017 season, could have jumped three whole divisions.
The players harbored a certain level of apprehension as well, but after a historic Foothill League season and the program’s first-ever postseason win, the Cats’ Division 6 apprehension has just about vanished.
“I think it shows that as a team, we don’t really back down,” said quarterback Weston Eget. “Being told we have to move up three divisions, we looked to possibly secure a championship in Division 9 last year and now that we’re up in Division 6, I think we have the same goals.”
West Ranch’s latest obstacle in the journey to a CIF-SS title is Oxnard, which the Wildcats (9-2) will host at Valencia High School at 7 p.m. tonight.
The Yellowjackets (9-2) were this season’s undefeated Pacific View League team and boast a roster that is stacked at almost every position.
On the ground, junior running back Xavier Harris can run hard, rushing for 1,274 yards and 23 touchdowns on 134 carries this season. He’s got hands, too, catching 20 passes for an additional 328 yards and five touchdowns.
The Wildcats defense has proven it can shut down capable run games throughout this season with leading tacklers Zachary Van Bennekum (92 tackles) and Joe Tempesta (62 tackles), but they’ll have to balance that aspect of the game with a solid pass-rush and lockdown coverage from the secondary as Oxnard is just as dangerous through the air.
Junior quarterback Vincent Walea is 103-of-182 passing for 1,792 yards and 22 touchdowns with just four interceptions. His primary target has been Oregon commit JR Waters, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound receiver who has hauled in 34 passes for 822 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
“It’s not going to be easy, but when we’ve got great athletes like the Camachos and we’ve got a solid defense the whole year, I’m not really worried about it,” said Tempesta, a linebacker. “I have all the confidence in the world in my defense.”
The Camachos, brothers Jovan and Ryan, have held down the secondary, combining for 63 total tackles. Ryan has a team-high five interceptions for 111 yards and one fumble recovery, while Jovan has four interceptions for five yards in addition to a caused fumble.
Ryan and Jovan have played both ways throughout the season. Ryan is the team’s leading rusher with 1,814 yards and 26 touchdowns on 169 carries. Jovan is the leading receiver with 1,141 yards and 12 touchdowns on 52 receptions.
At the helm of the offense is Eget, who has logged 2,395 passing yards, going 128-for-252 with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
“It’s pretty special just to be able to get the ball out of my hands and let them do the things that they do,” Eget said of his offense. “I’m blessed to have the offense that I have. The offensive line, too. I’m extremely blessed, that’s all I can say. They’re insane athletes.”
Varner said his team is still searching for its “perfect game,” and that tonight’s matchup against Oxnard could be the ideal opportunity.
“Everyone is talking about the history we’re making,” Varner said. “Well, how many pages to this history do you want to add?
“That’s what we’ve been saying because we just keep going and that’s kind of been our focus and Oxnard is going to be tough and people don’t really give us a chance. But no one ever really gives West Ranch a chance in anything, so we’re used to being the dark horse.”