By Matt Lechuga
For The Signal
Ask the West Ranch Wildcats why they’re such a strong second-half team and they’ll tell you they’re not really sure.
“For some reason my team likes to keep it close in the first half. I don’t get it,” said Wildcats head coach Chris Varner. “They all get together and decide they’re going to give me heart attacks doing that.”
Whatever the reason, West Ranch will take 28 unanswered points in the third quarter and the 56-28 win over visiting Castaic on Thursday at Valencia High School.
The game was back and forth in the first half, with fans barely settling into their seats before West Ranch (7-3, 5-1) grabbed an early 7-0 lead thanks to a kickoff return touchdown by Obi Ogbuagu.
After their first series ended in a three-and-out, the Coyotes responded by intercepting West Ranch’s Liam McDaniel and scoring on a 14-yard pass from Tyler Lewis to Gage Gibson.
Castaic (6-3, 3-2) then extended its lead to 14-7 thanks to a 14-yard option keeper by Lewis only to have the Wildcats tie it up again on an 18-yard scoring run right up the middle by Luke DePerno.
As fast a start as the game had, the last four series before the half went into warp drive with the teams trading scores until the clock ran out.
West Ranch leaned on DePerno even more, handing him the ball on nine of its 11 plays in the drive, ending with a one-yard scoring run to give the Wildcats the lead back 21-14.
DePerno eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the drive and finished the game with 148 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
“This game we ran a lot more than last game, I was a little gassed, but it was a lot of fun just pounding the ball,” said DePerno. “Just getting the ball and running. Not thinking at all, just running.”
Castaic came right back on its next possession and tied it on a 4-yard run by Lewis, but West Ranch’s two-minute drill got them down the field and finished with a 5-yard scramble by McDaniel to give the Wildcats a 28-21 lead at the half.
From there West Ranch found its groove, scoring 28 unanswered points in the third quarter to make it 56-21. First it was DePerno on a 23-yard rush up the middle, then Justus Morris from 1 yard out, third a 22-yard pass up the right sideline from McDaniel to Jack Samuelson and finally to cap it all off a defensive score when Castaic, backed up on its own 1-yard line, fumbled the snap and the Wildcats’ Mark Boss recovered it in the end zone.
“It’s still a young team. I know I keep saying that, but these are the kinds of things that going into the playoffs we have to improve on,” said Varner. “We have yet to put together two good halves and that’s our goal going forward.”
Castaic didn’t give up, however, scoring on a 60-yard run from Monty Coleman in the fourth quarter to make the final score 56-28.
“We made a few mistakes in the third quarter and everything kind of spiraled after that,” said Castaic head coach Sirr Guy Shakir. “We made some adjustments [at halftime] and felt like we could come back and play better than we did in the first half but we just didn’t execute.”
West Ranch gets a bye week to recover and ready itself for whoever they will face in the playoffs while Castaic gets another chance to clinch a playoff berth when it faces Hart next Friday.