By Matt Lechuga
For The Signal
The West Ranch Wildcats are breathing a huge sigh of relief after nearly letting one slip away against a determined Hart squad, surviving a nail-biter of a game with a 20-14 win at College of the Canyons on Friday night.
Coming into the matchup with Hart, the Wildcats were averaging about 48 points, 300 passing yards and 154 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Ryan Staub was averaging over four touchdown passes per game and only one opponent, St. Paul, was able to hold them to under 40 points so far this season.
It was a tall order for an Indians defense that was struggling to find its footing this season, but Hart rose to the challenge and nearly stole its first Foothill win from the top team in the league.
“On defense we tried switching some things up just to make their quarterback think a little bit,” said Hart head coach Rick Herrington. “You’re 1-4 and it’s easy for guys to say, ‘OK they’re beating everyone by 40 a game, let’s just get this one done,’ but they got a little taste and they kept fighting.”
The game plan to keep Staub guessing worked as the quarterback was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this year and wasn’t able to find the big plays he’s used to connecting on.
Trailing 20-7 just under two minutes to play, Indians quarterback Timmy Larkins hit Ryan De La Maza for a 61-yard score and bring the score to 20-14. Despite being unable to recover the onside kick, the Indians’ offense got another shot at the end zone when its defense forced and recovered a fumble with 39 seconds left on its own 25-yard line.
After a couple incomplete passes, Larkins was able to hook up with receiver Shawn Irwin for a couple short out routes to bring the Indians within striking distance, but with five seconds left a bad snap and a sack let West Ranch escape with the win.
“Hart just did a heck of a job; they showed up ready to play,” said West Ranch head coach Chris Varner. “Our guys were ready to play, we just made some mistakes and didn’t finish it when we had our opportunities. Credit to Hart, they battled literally until the last whistle.”
Neither team scored in the first quarter and West Ranch took a 7-0 lead into the half thanks to an interception by linebacker Tyler Lujan that set up a 19-yard scoring run by Luke Deperno on the next play.
Hart (1-5, 0-2) tied the game in the third quarter thanks to a 30-yard touchdown pass from Larkins to Irwin. The Wildcats countered on their next two possessions with scoring runs of 2 and 11 yards by Tyler Scott and Deperno, respectively, to push the score back to 20-7.
“We needed that for our future games,” said Deperno. “It’s going to help us a lot going into next week.”
The Wildcats (7-0, 3-0) now turn their attention to next week’s matchup against Valencia while Hart will continue to look for its first league win when they take on Saugus.