Wildcats score 24 unanswered, beat Grizzlies, 31-13; earn fifth straight playoff berth
Things didn’t always go their way, but West Ranch football got things done and made it five consecutive trips to the postseason on Friday, topping the Golden Valley Grizzlies (2-7, 0-5), 31-13, at Canyon High School’s Harry Welch Stadium.
West Ranch junior Liam McDaniel led the way with 206 passing yards and three total touchdowns. He crossed 1,500 passing yards for the season in the win and now sits at 1,622 on the season.
“We didn’t have a perfect game today,” McDaniel said. “We came out a little slow and then we picked it up, we did we had to do: we came out and won.”
It’s an impressive season for McDaniel, a transfer from Calabasas, who entered the season as the backup under center and has now established himself as the starter.
“There was a lot of ups and downs, learning the team,” McDaniel said. “You know, I came here, I had to learn everything. And it was hard. I had to get through it. And through the ups and downs, the failures and mistakes, you know, it’s just all part of the process.”
West Ranch also picked up four interceptions in the game, two in each half. Junior Kyler Garrity had two of those — he also added one on a 2-point conversion attempt — while senior Zach Wyre had one and senior Obi Ogbuagu returned one 22 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to seal the game.
Three of the interceptions came from tipped passes. It isn’t something that the Wildcats exactly work on, Ogbuagu said, but shows the chemistry that the defense has with the season now reaching crunch time.
“We don’t really work on it, but it’s kind of just what we know,” Ogbuagu said. “We know that if the ball is not in our grasp, tip it to a teammate, and if there’s no teammate nearby, tip the ball down.”
The Wildcats (6-3, 4-1) trailed for over a full quarter of play after the Grizzlies got an interception on the first drive of the game through junior Jamison Torres. Senior Isaiah Orozco capped off the Grizzlies’ first offensive drive with a 1-yard run.
McDaniel returned to the field looking like a new quarterback. He finished the first half with 124 passing yards and two total touchdowns, tossing one to senior Jack Samuelson to give the Wildcats their first lead and running for one late in the second quarter to make it a two-score game going into halftime.
“He’s taken a lot of heat for some things,” West Ranch head coach Chris Varner said, “but I just told him, ‘At this point, just be a game manager. We’re not asking you to win a game; let’s just get better and more consistent.’ And he’s shown that he’s a heck of a quarterback.”
McDaniel extended plays on multiple occasions with his legs throughout the game. It’s a part of his game that he says he’s been working on with the way that modern quarterbacks have to threaten the defense in multiple ways.
“The game is changing every year,” McDaniel said. “You know, quarterbacks are getting more mobile. You just have to adapt to how the game is and I have to extend the play when I need to.”
West Ranch junior Luke DePerno scored the team’s first points of the night midway through the second quarter on a 2-yard run. He ran for 82 yards in the game with two touchdowns and is now just 59 yards away from 1,000 for the season.
The Wildcats collected two interceptions in the first half, one from senior Zach Wyre to set up McDaniel’s rushing TD and then one by Garrity in the end zone to end the first half.
Orozco added a late touchdown on the ground from a couple of yards out. He finished with 88 rushing yards and is now just 80 yards away from 1,500 for his career.
The Wildcats host Castaic (6-2, 3-1), winners of two straight having taken down Saugus on Friday, next week before they have their bye in week 11, giving them a couple of weeks to prepare for the playoffs.
The Foothill League title is technically still not out of reach for the Wildcats. They trail Valencia (7-1, 4-0), undefeated in league play, by a game and need to hope for a Valencia loss in the final two weeks to have a prayer of repeating as league champs. The Vikings had a bye this week, host Hart next week and then plays away at Canyon in week 11.
“We’re gonna try our best,” Ogbuagu said.
Golden Valley will take its bye next week before finishing off the regular season on Oct. 26 against Saugus.