Wildcats erase 17-point halftime deficit, take down Indians, 42-25, to remain perfect in Foothill League
Not one. Not two. Not three. Not four.
Five touchdowns. That’s how many times West Ranch junior running back Luke DePerno reached the end zone Friday night against Hart at Valencia High School, all in the second half, leading the Wildcats to a 42-25 comeback victory over the Indians.
“Feels great. It’s amazing,” DePerno said. “Hart said in the article, we read it, they said they’re gonna kick our ass, so we took that personally. We’re down 17-0, they thought they had us, but we came back. I was fired up.”
Trailing 17-0 at the half, the Wildcats (5-2, 3-0) took their game to another level, scoring 28 unanswered in the third quarter to take a 28-17 lead into the fourth. DePerno scored three of his touchdowns in that quarter to go along with a Zach Wyre 67-yard reception for a score from quarterback Liam McDaniel.
West Ranch head coach Chris Varner credited DePerno for opening up the rest of the West Ranch offense in the second half. He had only 48 yards in the first half before finishing the game with 258 rushing yards to go along with a 21-yard reception.
“The difference is, we needed to get Luke going to open up a lot of other things,” Varner said. “It was a complete team effort, but the result was Luke doing what he did. But he doesn’t do that without the O-line. He doesn’t do that without Liam hitting Jack (Samuelson) and a couple of our outside, which spread them out.”
McDaniel finished the night with 210 passing yards while Samuelson caught five passes for 51 yards. Wyre had four catches for 126 yards.
DePerno credited the Wildcats’ halftime attitude for the turnaround.
“I was just hyping our boys up, telling them the game’s not over,” DePerno said. “We just had to put up some points and get back in it.”
The Indians (4-2, 1-1) were absolutely dominant in the first half, forcing turnovers on each of the Wildcats’ first two possessions and scoring on all three of their first-half drives.
Hart senior running back Chris Clauss kept his hot streak going with a 2-yard jump over his linemen to open the scoring midway through the first quarter. He now has five touchdowns in his last two games.
Hart senior Noah Keller recorded an interception on the Wildcats’ first drive to set up that score.
Hart senior quarterback Timmy Larkins showed his legs work just as well as his arm, running down the right sideline midway through the second quarter for a 20-yard score. Hart senior Ian Edwards recovered a fumble at his own 2-yard line before the Indians marched down the field for the score.
Hart senior Bennett Murphy wrapped up the first half with a clinical 25-yard field goal. She has now hit all three of her attempts on the year.
Larkins hit senior receiver Shawn Irwin for a late score in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 28-25, but DePerno knew his defense would step up.
“It was amazing,” DePerno said. “We just asked the defense for stops so the offense could score, and it just happened.”
The defense got the stop on that drive and then junior Kyle Garrity shut down the Indians’ next drive with an interception in his own end zone.
Larkins finished with 248 passing yards while Irwin, the focus of the West Ranch defense, caught 10 passes for 143 yards.
“Our main goal was (stopping) Irwin,” Varner said. “Last year, we beat them, but it was the Irwin show. So I said, ‘We got to try to shut him down,’ and he’s a phenomenal receiver, still made some amazing catches. But we thought if we could just kind of get him frustrated by not going to him, because he is that good, well, let’s see what else you got, and defense just came up, flying around for the first time all season. They have the confidence and it’s a great team and it’s a good win for this program.”
Hart returns to its home field at College of the Canyons’ Cougar Stadium next Friday when the Indians host the Saugus Centurions (0-6, 0-2), who had a bye this week.
West Ranch will be playing in what DePerno thinks will be the decider for the Foothill League title next Friday. The Wildcats will be staying at Valencia but playing the Vikings (6-1, 3-0), who took down Golden Valley on Friday to remain undefeated in Foothill League play.
Those two teams are the only unbeaten teams in league play with Hart’s loss.
“I think next week will definitely be hard,” DePerno said, “but if we can beat Valencia next week, I think we will win Foothill League, and if we can come out like we did in the second half of the game, I think we can win.”