The undefeated season is alive and well for West Ranch (11-0) after a 42-21 CIF Division 3 playoff win over St. Pius X St. Matthias Academy (8-2). The Wildcats were led by quarterback Ryan Staub, who went 25 of 36 for 295 yards through the air. The Colorado commit also tacked on 71 yards rushing in his four-TD night.
The West Ranch defense continued its dominant season and ran wild through the Warriors’ offensive line. The Cats weren’t able to bring down PMA quarterback Dieter Barr for a sack but had him running for his life throughout the night.
West Ranch was close to the end zone but couldn’t convert on a handful of early fourth downs.
It looked clear the first points would get on the board when PMA went for it on fourth and goal on the 1-yard line. A huge crowd formed around the ball and somehow West Ranch linebacker Connor Reyes ripped away the ball. Reyes would break free for a 99-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. The Cats missed the PAT and settled for a 6-0 lead.
The Warriors almost jumped into the lead when Barr had wide receiver Jordan Shaw wide open on what would’ve been a 70-yard score, but Barr would overthrow his top receiver.
The Wildcats got the ball back with 1:18 left in the first half and knew they needed some breathing room on the scoreboard.
Staub led a great drive through the air, hitting William Seidel and Chaz Hilst for big gains. The gunslinger would cap off the drive with a 6-yard rushing TD before connecting with receiver Maverick Diaz for the 2-point conversion.
The Cats left PMA a little time to try and make something happen but safety Grayson Gill intercepted Barr on a Hail Mary to end the half.
The Wildcats got comfortable in a hurry to start the third quarter. Staub hit Diaz for a 30-yard TD then hit Hilst for a 12-yard score on the next drive.
Hilst went off, racking up nine catches for 135 yards and one touchdown.
“The adrenaline going through that game was insane for every single person on our team,” said Hilst. “When we got pushing, moving and momentum, everything just built up on me and I felt great.”
The Hilst score helped the Wildcats overcome a drive plagued with three offensive holding penalties. They were West Ranch’s first flags of the night.
West Ranch was up 28-0 in a flash after posting two consecutive 14-point quarters.
However, the Warriors would find momentum and score 13 unanswered points. Barr had two big TD passes including a 50-yard and an 81-yard bomb to Gregory McClendon to cut the lead to two scores twice.
“That’s a very talented team,” said Cats head coach Chris Varner. “We saw the explosiveness. We haven’t faced that many threats before but we made the plays we had to.”
PMA looked like it stole every bit of momentum from West Ranch. But, on fourth and one on the Warriors’ 49-yard line, the Cats went for the first down but ended up with a score. Staub ran a keeper right up the middle and broke free for the long score to go up 35-14.
Running back Ty DePerno would then put the game out of reach with a 12-yard rushing score.
It was the first playoff opener loss in four years for the Warriors, who made a big jump up from Division 7 into 3.
Running back Tyler Scott exited the game due to an injury. It is unclear if Scott will return to the team. Ty’s brother and running back committee member Luke DePerno did not play and was in a boot on the sideline. Ty’s solid game on the ground kept the Wildcat attack balanced in this game.
West Ranch is feeling more confident than ever and noticed huge changes in their mindsets from last year’s short CIF appearance.
“Our mentality is so much stronger this year,” said Hilst. “I think we went into this game mentally much stronger. I think there’s a big difference from last year.”
The Wildcats will now advance and host Upland (7-4) next Friday.
“[Our confidence] is sky high,” said Staub. “Sky’s the limit. CIF is all we want and we can do it.”