Wildcats give up 21 unanswered points in second half, La Habra wins, 41-21
The West Ranch football team had been dominant in the second half of games throughout the second half of the season.
Friday night on the road at La Habra in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs, the Wildcats (7-4) got a taste of their own medicine as the Highlanders (7-4) scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to advance to the second round, 41-21.
“They did a good job of mixing the play-action and just kind of playing keep-away with the ball, and once they got it, it was just kind of tough to really get the spark we needed on offense to get back in,” West Ranch head coach Chris Varner said. “But the kids battled.”
West Ranch junior running back Luke DePerno scored twice, once in each half. He’s been one of the top performers for the Wildcats this year and proved again on Friday that he is one of the top runners in the section, even playing on a bad ankle, per Varner.
“Luke was playing out a bad ankle but showed a lot of heart and resolve to come out there and play through that,” Varner said.
La Habra got on the board first on a Bryce Whitley receiving touchdown. West Ranch answered right back as junior Liam McDaniel hit senior Jack Samuelson to give the Wildcats a 7-6 lead.
The Highlanders ran the ball into the end zone to regain the lead in the first quarter before DePerno scored his first of the night in the second. La Habra then saw freshman quarterback DJ Mitchell fire a strike to senior receiver Richie Estrada to put the Highlanders back on top before the half ended, 20-14.
DePerno gave the Wildcats their third and final lead of the game at 21-20 early in the third. The Highlanders returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown to regain the lead and they never looked back, shutting the Wildcats out the rest of the way.
“We had the momentum and they grabbed it right back and just never gave it up after that,” Varner said.
La Habra got another rushing touchdown in the third and then Whitley got his second receiving touchdown of the night in the fourth to finish things off.
DePerno and McDaniel are set to return next year to lead the Wildcats as seniors. Varner is excited to see how much they can grow in the next year, especially McDaniel after the Calabasas transfer took over the starting quarterback job following the Wildcats’ week one loss to St. Francis.
“Having a full offseason with Liam will really help,” Varner said. “To come in the summer when he did, not knowing anyone, I thought he did a great job, battled through some some tough spots, but did very well managing the game for us all season and I think sky’s the limit for him with the whole offseason.”
Varner didn’t know what to expect out of his team coming into the year. He had heard some calling this a rebuilding year for the program but his players, especially his seniors, responded to put the Wildcats close to a second-consecutive Foothill League title and another playoff game.
“This group of kids, everyone talked this year about rebuilding, and I wasn’t sure what we were gonna do,” Varner said. “The seniors really kind of grabbed the bull by the horns and gave everything they had. It was never a lack of effort. I love this group of seniors. They’re a great group of kids.”