Wildcats host on-campus for first time; McDaniel tosses three TDs in first start
As it turns out, the West Ranch Wildcats enjoy playing on their own campus.
The Wildcats (1-1) quickly put behind their season-opening loss with a blowout victory over the visiting Pasadena Bulldogs (0-2) on Friday at West Ranch High School, 61-0.
“I think last week, it kind of put a fire under us, and it made us mad and it kind of motivated us to just come out and prove that we are still West Ranch and we can still play at that level,” West Ranch junior quarterback Liam McDaniel. “And, you know, it being the first home game in history, we had to make a statement.”
That “level” that McDaniel referred to was a perfect 10-0 record in the regular season last year and a Foothill League title.
McDaniel, in his first year with the program after transferring from Calabasas, was handed the start after splitting time with senior Zach Wyre under center against St. Francis last week. McDaniel proved West Ranch head coach Chris Varner right by completing 10 of 18 passes for 190 yards with three touchdowns, possibly giving Varner flashbacks of Ryan Staub, who took home MVP honors in the Foothill League as a West Ranch senior last season.
For now, at least, McDaniel will continue to be the main quarterback.
“We’re gonna just keep it going,” Varner said.
That doesn’t mean Wyre is being benched. Far from it, actually. Varner doesn’t recall Wyre taking a seat at any point on Friday, playing both receiver and defensive back while also taking part in special teams for the Wildcats.
Wyre ended up reeling in two passes for 51 yards, including the first touchdown of the game less than three minutes in.
“It’s fun being out there playing both ways, playing safety again, getting out there with my team, being able to help them however I can,” Wyre said. “I just like to win, and if it means me going both ways, I’m gonna go both ways.”
McDaniel’s other two touchdowns went to senior Jack Samuelson, one in each half. Samuelson racked up three catches for 86 yards overall.
Junior Luke DePerno was electric despite only playing in the first half due to injury. He showed off both his speed and strength, bowling over defenders as often as he led them in footraces. DePerno finished with 94 yards on just six carries, two of them for touchdowns. One of those was a 46-yard burst that saw DePerno shake off two different tackles en route to the end zone.
“Just gotta go through them,” DePerno said. “I like hitting people, so I run through them.”
DePerno, one of the few returning starters from last year’s squad, feels that this win, in this fashion, will do wonders going into the rest of the season.
“Great bounce back,” DePerno said. “We’re gonna forget about last week after this. We had a great game. We’re excited to move on.”
DePerno left the game with what Varner described as a “slight hand sort of thing.” He expects his running back to be OK moving forward.
Perhaps the Wildcats’ most explosive play of the day came from senior Obi Ogbuagu. He picked up a Pasadena punt in the first quarter at about his own 30-yard line before blazing down the sideline for a touchdown.
“I saw an open field and I saw a touchdown,” Ogbuagu said. “That’s what I saw.”
Also a standout at defensive back, Ogbuagu lamented the number of times the ball went to his opposite side. The Bulldogs had trouble moving the ball for most of the game, rarely getting past midfield, with Ogbuagu seeing it as a sign of respect, and a sign of how good the rest of the defense is, that he didn’t have to do too much.
“Linemen like [Michael] Miller and Max Piccolino, they took down the run, so it’s pretty much nothing I could do there,” Ogbuagu said.
The Bulldogs were also coming off a disappointing loss in their season opener and have yet to score through two games this season.
With nothing much to play for in the second half, Varner did get to see junior running back Justus Morris get down to business to the tune of 35 yards and two touchdowns.
That production could bode well for the Wildcats if DePerno is not at 100% moving forward.
“We’ve got a nice one-two punch,” Varner said. “We also have Obi being able to run the ball, so we got three viable backs right now. It’s a good problem to have.”
The Wildcats were motivated to play on their own campus for the first time, something Varner said was one of his goals — along with winning a Foothill League — when he took over the program eight years ago.
“It was fun,” Wyre said, “especially with The Pack [student section] at the end of the end zone, always celebrating with us, and it just makes us play a different game when we know our students are around us and everyone else is watching us.”
The West Ranch High administration made sure that there was extra seating made available through portable bleachers, according to Robert Fisher, principal at West Ranch High School.
The main concern for him was making sure the game kicked off on time — the scheduled start was 5 p.m. — and ended on time. Both things happened, which made his job less stressful.
“First and foremost, when you plan an event like this, you got to make sure you can do it safely,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to cover all of the different areas of the game and the field.
“That was a conversation we had is, you know, you got to make sure that you get the game in. And so we’ve been kind of monitoring the sundown here with the hills behind us and just making sure that we planned it right. We talked about possibly moving up, but it worked out.”
Varner isn’t sure when, or if, the Wildcats will next host a football game at West Ranch. The game was moved to that location due to turf replacement at Valencia High School, West Ranch’s normal host location, being delayed.
“I’ll take whatever they give me,” Varner said. “This is our school. I want to play here. I want to defend it.”
The Valencia field is scheduled to be ready on Sept. 1, according to a statement released by the William S. Hart Union High School District earlier this month.
West Ranch has a short week coming up and will head to Antelope Valley on Thursday, with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.
Pasadena also has a short week as the Bulldogs take on Roosevelt on Thursday at 7 p.m.