By Dan Lovi
For The Signal
The West Ranch Wildcats and Canyon Cowboys met for a Saturday night showdown at Harry Welch Stadium, with both teams vying for their first win of the season.
An electrifying first half that featured 40 combined points from both teams ended in favor of the Wildcats, who defeated the Cowboys 33-20, earning their first victory since a playoff win against Woodrow Wilson of Long Beach back on Nov. 11, 2019.
“We needed this just to remember what it tastes like. It’s been a year and a half,” West Ranch head coach Chris Varner said. “I’m proud of them. Canyon battled the whole time. Credit to coach [Joe] Maiale, his kids battled. I’m proud of my guys, we needed this. I’m just happy to get one in the win column.”
The Wildcats opened the game with a series of screen passes, as senior quarterback Walker Eget dissected the Cowboys’ defense. He capped off the first drive with a 27-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Jose Maldonado.
On West Ranch’s second drive, Eget once again led his team down the field by connecting with multiple receivers, finishing the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
While Eget was able to sling the ball to the tune of 204 yards and two touchdowns, running back Derek Miranda helped lighten the load with a standout performance.
The junior back carried the ball 15 times for 99 yards and a rushing score, adding three catches for 32 yards and a touchdown through the air.
“He’s a leader. He’s been with us for a couple years,” Varner said about Miranda. “He knows what it feels like. He was with us last year with the 10 wins so he’s been keeping these kids’ spirits up. We have a very young line, but nobody got down on each other and they kept everything positive. Credit to him for being a leader.”
The Cowboys kept the game tight in the first half behind the leg of senior kicker Jarrett Reeser, who nailed a 45-yard field goal and 49-yard field goal to bring the score to 13-6.
Junior running back Dylan Roof, who paced the offense the majority of the night for Canyon, broke off a 36-yard run in the second quarter, setting up a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ty Sparks to receiver Colin Figueroa to bring the score to 13-13.
Figueroa, who starts on both offense and defense, finished with nine catches for 115 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and fumble recovery.
“He’s a leader, a special athlete and overall great kid. You can’t say enough about him,” Maiale said about his senior wideout. “He does everything for us. He came up big on both sides of the ball. He’s one of those kids you wish you had for another four years. Just special.”
With momentum on their side and just a few minutes left in the first half, the Cowboys were looking for their first lead of the game, but a botched snap that went over the head of Sparks was recovered by West Ranch.
Just a few plays later, Miranda squeaked into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 20-13 lead.
On their ensuing possession, a costly fumble by the Cowboys was scooped up by Connor Reyes of West Ranch, who took it to the house and bolstered West Ranch’s lead to 27-13.
In the third quarter, Canyon found itself deep in its own territory on fourth-and-4, and came up a yard short on a rushing attempt from Roof. The advantageous field position led to another score for West Ranch, as Eget found Miranda for a 23-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 33-13.
“We just have stuff to clean up,” Maiale said. “There’s never an excuse. With the shortened season you hope to get as many reps as you can. We got behind a little, but I’m proud of the effort.”
Injuries plagued the Cowboys all night, as starting quarterback and linebacker Angel Vasquez was unable to play and Sparks also suffered an injury that forced him out near the end of the game. Senior utility player James Mendibles also suffered an injury and couldn’t return.
Roof, who ran for 105 yards on 29 carries, suffered a stinger in the third quarter and was ruled out.
“It’s part of the game,” Maiale said about the injuries. “I’m just so proud of them. They didn’t quit, they kept going. I couldn’t be prouder of the way they fought and played.”
The Cowboys scored once more in the fourth quarter, with Figueora catching a 5-yard pass from Sparks, bringing the game to 33-20.
Canyon will look for its first win of the season next week against Hart, which is also vying for its first victory.
West Ranch will face the undefeated Saugus Centurions on a shortened week at home on Thursday.
“We’ll have two days of practice,” said Varner, who earned his 50th career varsity win. “We’re our own worst enemy, so if we can play consistent, that’s our goal.”
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