West Ranch Wildcats football’s defense put on a show in Thursday night’s win over the Canyon Cowboys.
The Wildcats finished with three interceptions, a trio of sacks and a plethora of forced Canyon three-and-outs.
The Wildcats handed Canyon its first loss of the 2023 season, winning the game, 30-14, and extending their league win streak to eight games.
West Ranch (3-2, 1-0) was led by junior running back Justus Morris, who carried the ball 21 times for 130 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Morris got the start in the absence of workhorse back Luke DePerno, who went down with an injury last week.
The Cats opened up with scores on their first two drives, setting the tone from the start.
Morris and the offense converted on fourth down twice and opened the Foothill League season with a 3-yard touchdown rush on their first drive.
“I thought he did well,” said Cats coach Chris Varner. “He’s a great kid. He’s a big kid but he didn’t get cleared to play until July. So, he’s still got a lot more left. He’s still not in game-type shape. So between him and Luke, and throw Obi (Ogbuagu) in there, I like what we have going on back there.”
The Cats found success through the air on their second drive and capped it off with a 27-yard TD pass from quarterback Liam McDaniel to Jack Samuelson.
Canyon’s defense also had a great showing with three picks and fumble recovery, but falling into a quick 14-0 hole was too much to overcome.
After being held without a first down in the first quarter, Canyon started moving the ball. The offense still struggled to break into Wildcat territory until the defense stepped in.
Moments after West Ranch junior Kyler Garrity intercepted Cowboys signal caller Caleb Sparks, Canyon senior Diego Olujich returned the favor. Olujich nearly returned a 60-yard pick-six to the house but was just taken down on a play that ignited the Canyon crowd.
Cowboys junior Evan Watts immediately ran in the team’s first score of the game after breaking several tackles for a 13-yard touchdown.
West Ranch not only countered but also stole the moment on its final drive of the first half. McDaniel turned a broken play into a 40-yard rush before finding receiver Zach Wyre for a 11-yard touchdown. Wyre made a terrific catch for the score, juggling the pass while being tackled to seal the score.
Canyon running back Keston Banos sparked the team with an 82-yard TD on the first play of the second half, but the Cowboy offense stalled afterward.
Banos led the Cowboys (4-1, 0-1) with 151 yards on the ground.
Canyon struggled to move the ball and didn’t convert another first down until the fourth quarter.
Cats receiver Zach Wyre was constantly open in the Canyon secondary. Wyre, the team’s former quarterback, has seen a huge wave of success since moving over to wide receiver.
Cats head coach Chris Varner had a tough decision to make pulling Wyre away from under center.
“It was a tough decision but he’s too valuable in other positions,” Varner said. “He’s a good kid. I know it’s probably a tough thing for him but he is not showing it. He’s stepping up, bringing everyone else up with him with the energy. That’s what you need. That’s what we’re lacking and he gives it to us.”
The senior receiver made a juggling catch in the end zone while being tackled to go up 20-7. He hauled in a 30-yard pass but fumbled in the third quarter. However, Wyre quickly made up for the mistake with a big tackle on defense on the very next play and a 53-yard reception on his next offensive play.
Wyre finished the night with 10 catches for 157 receiving yards and one score. McDaniel finished the game 20-for-39 with 307 passing yards and 71 rushing yards.
The Cats forced Sparks into some tough throws and held the Canyon quarterback in check, as he finished the game 4-of-20.
West Ranch only managed three points in the third quarter as the Canyon defense locked in after a couple of lapses early in the game.
The Wildcats would coincidentally hold their counterparts out of the end zone in crunch time and walked away with their 10th straight win over Canyon.
“The defense has been a work in progress,” Varner said. “We’ve made some changes. We found what we’re going to stick with. It just took a little bit of time to get going. I’m just really pleased with the effort tonight. We asked some seniors to step up and they did step up big-time with turnovers.”
Canyon will look to reset in its bye week and get back to its hard-hitting, fast-running ways that pushed the team to four straight wins this season.
West Ranch will now return home to host Saugus on Thursday at College of the Canyons.