West Ranch football set for first semifinal appearance in program history

West Ranch Thierry Sirias (8) intercepts a Canyon pass. Dan Watson/The Signal

MaxPreps.com and CalPreps have released their score projections for the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 semifinal games, but West Ranch football coach Chris Varner probably won’t look at them. He’d given up on that a while ago.

“They always have us losing,” Varner said. “What’s the difference?”

The Wildcats have been picked to lose before and they’ve been outsized before. But somehow, they find themselves in a CIF-SS Division 7 matchup against Temecula Valley this Friday at Temecula Valley.

It’s the first time West Ranch has even been in a prep football semifinal game.

The Golden Bears are this season’s Southwestern League co-champions and got that title mostly due to an offense that is headed up by running back Brody Hughes. Hughes is uncommitted, but has interest from Air Force, Fresno State, Hawaii, Montana State and San Diego State, according to 247sports.com.

“Make sure that at the beginning of the game, try to hit him hard,” said Cats linebacker Bryce Buchanan. “Try not to let him get too many big runs. But we’ve been a good team at stopping the run.”

Hughes has racked up 1,421 yards this season on 196 carries with 24 touchdowns and averages 7.3 yards per carry. Varner said that the defense’s approach to Temecula Valley’s run game will be similar to its approach to Golden Valley’s, which relied mostly on Johnathan Kaelin for yardage.

“Stop the running games and force them to get off script, go for third and longs, stuff like that,” Varner said. “Get them uncomfortable, maybe they make a mistake.”

The Golden Bears also have a sizable defensive line, but playing against bigger teams is nothing new for West Ranch. Running back Jackson Reyes believes that the myriad styles featured in the Wildcats’ running back corps has been an advantage.

Reiger Burgin leads all West Ranch running backs with 908 yards and 15 touchdowns on 166 carries. Derek Miranda follows with 297 yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries and Jackson Reyes is right behind him with 295 yards and four touchdowns on 41 carries.

“It’s cool that we have four different running backs,” Reyes said. “We all run different and we can put someone in there and he’s doing good and we can put someone else in there and the defense isn’t ready because he’s going to juke or run faster or whatever it is.”

The Wildcats achieved some self-validation after beating Woodrow Wilson of Long Beach, 57-56, in the quarterfinals last week. The team took a cerebral approach to the game, trying to outsmart their opponent in any possible.

“We pulled everything out last week, fake punt and everything,” Varner said. “We’re going to try and put our boys in the best position to be successful, whatever that takes.”

West Ranch travels to Temecula Valley for a 7 p.m. kickoff tonight with a championship game on the line.

“We want to go all the way,” Buchanan said. “The goal was a championship at the beginning of the season. If we lose this game, we will not be satisfied.”

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