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The Vikings get an early gauge

Posted: September 10, 2009 10:36 p.m.
Updated: September 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Expectations are high for the Valencia High football team.

Right out of the gate, the Vikings get their test.

Valencia, the No. 2 team in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division, travels to Thousand Oaks High tonight to play the Lancers at 7 p.m.

Thousand Oaks, a 10-win team from last year that plays in the challenging Marmonte League, though, doesn't have the same weapons it had in 2008 when it opened up the season with a 23-14 victory at Valencia.

"We have to replace a lot of guys on both sides of the ball," said Thousand Oaks head coach Mike Leibin. "Something you don't know is how good you'll be until you're in a real game. I hope inexperience doesn't rear its ugly head."

The Lancers lost their main two cogs on offense from a year ago in quarterback Ian Shultis and 2,328-yard rusher John Lister, who Leibin called the most productive back in school history.

Yet Valencia head coach Larry Muir said there is still cause for concern about Thousand Oaks' offense.

He pointed to the Lancers' run game, which he said will be established by fleet-footed quarterback Avondre Bollar, who last year was a starting defensive back.

Rickie Miniard, who averaged 7 yards per carry last year on 44 rushes, steps in as the team's running back.

"They play fast on offense and do a really good job of running the ball and play action - a lot of bootleg stuff," Muir said.

That style of play hurt the Vikings last year, Muir said.

But the Vikings have a major experience advantage over the Lancers, returning nearly their entire starting defense.

Thousand Oaks returns six starters from the 2008 team.

Where Muir has a concern is the Vikings' readiness.

Because of the Station Fire, which has burned more than 160,000 acres, the Vikings were limited in practice to one day last week.

"We didn't get much work done," Muir said. "I kind of feel we're behind. There is sense of urgency."

In a game where one team is lacking in experience and the other is lacking in time on the field, the turnover battle will be a huge point of emphasis.

Leibin said it was one thing his team has emphasized the most this year, starting with spring practice.

In the two games Thousand Oaks lost last season, the Lancers turned the ball over six times to their opponents' zero.

Don't think Valencia is not concerned with turnovers either, especially with a young backfield in quarterback Alex Bishop and running back Steven Manfro.

It could tell the tale for both teams in their season opener.


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