West Ranch entered the 2022 season dreaming of a first Foothill League title.
Friday night at Valencia High School, the Wildcats (9-0, 5-0) made that dream a reality, dominating the Golden Valley Grizzlies (6-3, 3-2), 35-7, to clinch a share of the league title on senior night.
“It’s almost like it didn’t happen,” West Ranch senior Brady Van Bennekum said. “Obviously, you’re all excited as a team, we’re gonna celebrate all night, but it’s really unreal. I’m so excited to do this with my boys. We’ve all been playing together for 10 years now. So to get it done like this, our final year, it’s awesome.”
The Wildcats can claim the title outright with a win over Castaic next week.
“We want more,” West Ranch senior Ryan Staub said. “Next week, we’re looking to fully seal it.”
Staub, the fulcrum of the Wildcats’ offense for much of the season, got some help on the first drive of the game. Senior Tyler Scott rushed for 64 yards on that first drive, capping it off with a 5-yard touchdown run.
That first drive saw the Wildcats run the ball on all eight plays.
“The offense has kind of stalled a little bit the last couple of weeks,” West Ranch head coach Chris Varner said. “We wanted to go right back to doing what we knew we could do.”
Scott, a transfer from Alemany, finished with 91 yards on 15 carries. His emergence in the past three games has helped ease the burden on the Wildcats’ other two running backs, Ty and Luke DePerno.
“He’s been a great addition ever since he came back, but I mean, we have a three-headed monster at running back,” Staub said. “Any single one could go off any single night.”
Ty DePerno finished with 34 yards on five carries, while Luke had 40 yards on six carries.
It took some time for Staub to get going, but once he did, he racked up numbers in bunches. He threw for 159 yards on 19-of-30 passing with three touchdowns. Two of those scores went to senior Maverick Diaz, while the other went to senior Isaac Ellis, giving Staub 29 touchdown passes on the season. He also rushed for 53 yards on five attempts.
“There’s no way of trying to scheme one individual player, because we have four senior receivers and they’re all studs,” Staub said.
Diaz was held in check until midway through the third quarter, as he was under the close watch of Golden Valley senior Ajani Smith. He finished with six catches for 19 yards.
“I told Ajani, I said, ‘Respect to him,’ as they threw a lot of stop routes to him,” Golden Valley head coach Dan Kelley said. “Ajani is a great DB, he’s a great competitor on both sides of the ball.”
West Ranch senior Chaz Hilst didn’t score, but he did pick up 105 yards on 10 catches. Senior Isaac Ellis had two catches for 38 yards.
West Ranch had its quickest drive of the game on Diaz’s first touchdown. That was set up by senior Grayson Gill’s first interception of the season, and the Wildcats’ 12th as a team.
“Our ultimate goal is to put the offense in a great position,” Van Bennekum said. “You know, we’ve forced a lot of turnovers this year, and they’ve capitalized.”
Golden Valley got its lone score with four seconds left in the game when senior quarterback Chris Melkonian fired a 5-yard pass to senior Dallas Landry.
Melkonian finished with 118 yards on 15-of-26 passing with a touchdown and an interception. Junior Isaac Orozco had 47 yards on 14 carries, while senior Casey Jimenez had 23 yards on 10 carries. Smith had 47 yards on six receptions.
The Grizzlies were playing without junior Julian Rios, the team’s leading rusher, as well as linemen Antonio Brown and Hayden Kalmar.
“The guys that went in there tonight, our running backs, really stepped it up,” Kelley said. “I was very impressed with the running of Casey Jimenez and Isaiah Orozco, very impressed there. I was impressed with our offensive line getting hats on people and blocking, moving the chains. Tough defense to go against. I’m not gonna hang my head about this.”
Golden Valley now enters a bye week before finishing off the regular season on Oct. 28 against Saugus at Canyon High.
West Ranch will play a road game back at Valencia High against Castaic next Friday at 7 p.m. After that, the team will receive a much-needed bye before the postseason starts after playing 10 straight weeks.
Varner will be looking to keep his team healthy during this final stretch, as, despite not having any major injuries, his team is dealing with some minor bumps and bruises.
“We do have some guys that are banged up,” Varner said. “We’ve had some guys ready to jump in for them.”
That depth has been one of the keys for the Wildcats this season, and Varner made sure to note it after one of the biggest wins in program history.
“This is a complete team effort,” Varner said.