West Ranch football beats Wilson to advance to semifinals

West Ranch senior Zach Ven Bennekum reaches the ball over the goal line in a playoff matchup with Wilson at Valencia High School Friday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

By Bryanna Winner
For The Signal

West Ranch football advanced to the semifinal game after beating Woodrow Wilson of Long Beach, 57-56, on Friday night at Valencia High School.

West Ranch was not only coming off a win from the previous week, but it was also coming out of a tragedy following the events at fellow Foothill League school Saugus High school. The fans at the game packed the bleachers and were wearing blue while “#saugusstrong” banners decorated the bleachers. 

“I told the kids that at the end of the day that it’s a little dumb game, but if we can bring a little bit of hope in this time of darkness, then we need to do that and help this community,” said coach Chris Varner. 

Saugus students join students from West Ranch in the student section at Valencia High School for a playoff matchup between the Wildcats and Wilson Friday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Wilson came out of the gate strong as it held West Ranch to multiple three-and-outs and tallied its first touchdown with 8:16 remaining in the first quarter. 

Ryan Pettway threw a 4-yard pass to Tyrie Robinson with 2:39 left in the frame to put the Bruins up 14-0.

West Ranch was able to come to life with just under a minute left in the quarter with a 7-yard pass from junior Walker Eget to senior Zach Van Bennekum to put them within a touchdown at the end of the frame.

In the second quarter, the Bruins were able to three more scores compared to the Wildcats’ two. Both touchdowns for West Ranch were passes from Eget to junior Nicholas Kohl (3:29) and Van Bennekum (28.6 seconds) with a six and one-yard, respectively. 

The Wildcats trailed the Bruins 35-21 at halftime. 

In honor of the victims, the student section released five balloons and chanted “Saugus Strong” for each victim. 

The Wildcats struggled to hold the Bruins during the first half but woke up during the second.

“I told them that I was proud of them. That’s a heck of a talented team and they were battling,” said Varner of his halftime speech. “They didn’t quit. They very well could’ve after everything this week.”

West Ranch junior Nicholas Kohl and senior Zach Van Bennekum celebrate a touchdown in a playoff matchup with Wilson at Valencia High School Friday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

During the third quarter, the Bruins were playing keep-away as they held onto the ball for the majority of the frame. The Bruins went for a field goal, but it was blocked and the Wildcats were able to get a touchdown with 14 seconds left as Eget threw to Kohl for the 12-yard touchdown.

The fourth quarter was back-and-forth as both teams put points on the board. Within about 20 seconds of Wilson scoring, senior Jackson Reyes ran in a 99-yard punt return to bring the score to 42-35 in favor of the Bruins with 10:16 remaining. 

Pettway threw another touchdown to Bruner with 9:43 left and with the exception of another Bruin touchdown with 2:30 left in regulation, the rest of the frame belonged to West Ranch. After the Wildcats were down 49-35, the next two touchdowns were passes from Eget to Reyes. Then with 1:36 left on the clock, Eget threw his seventh touchdown and converted the 2-point conversion to put them up 57-56.

“(Walker) is an incredible young man and he’s only a junior and he’s only going to get better, but the poise that he showed in the face of adversity is a true champion,” said Varner.

Wilson tried once more to take the lead with a field goal but was unsuccessful as the attempt went wide left. Within the last two seconds, the crowd began chanting Saugus Strong

The Wildcats had the heart and drive to win this game not only for themselves but for the entire community.

The Wildcats continue to the Division 7 semifinals against either the Temecula Valley Golden Bears or Carter Lions.

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