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A roller coaster

The Wildcats cough up a big lead, then win the game in overtime

Posted: September 12, 2009 12:14 a.m.
Updated: September 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

West Ranch defensive back Adam Nowakowski, left, takes down Lancaster quarterback Ward Blais (14) for a sack as teammate Andrew Nowakowski (44) looks on Friday at Valencia High.

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With 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, West Ranch held a 20-point lead over Lancaster.

Eight minutes later, the Wildcats blocked an extra point to avoid a loss.

Then, in overtime, West Ranch scored the game-winning touchdown and could breathe easy.

The roller coasters at Magic Mountain had nothing on this game.

West Ranch quarterback Connor Eichten hit Matt Szymanski for a 26-yard touchdown in overtime and the Wildcats’ defense held on for a 34-27 victory at Valencia High School.

“I was just happy to get the ball,” Szymanski said. “It was a great all-around play by everybody.”

The same could not be said for the fourth quarter.

Eichten found Chris Kim for a 36-yard touchdown strike with 10:10 on the clock in the fourth, giving West Ranch (1-1) a 27-7 advantage.

From there, Lancaster took over.

Using a two-quarterback system featuring Cash Oliver and Ward Blais, the Eagles (0-2) moved down the field on the ensuing possession before running back Cleavon Barnes plunged in from 4-yards out to cut the lead to 27-14.

Lancaster then recovered an onside kick, and Barnes scampered 25 yards for another touchdown.

West Ranch fumbled on the next possession, setting up Lancaster on the Wildcats’ 32-yard line. Oliver eventually scrambled to find Blair Shannon for a 15-yard touchdown that tied the game.

The extra point was blocked by a wall of Wildcats, however, and neither team could score before time ran out.

So what kind of roller coaster was Sean O’Brien on during the fourth quarter?

“None,” he said. “I had too much to do. I’m not trying to sound like some genius coach or something, but I was too focused on what we were going to do next.”

What the Wildcats did in the first half was control field position and jump out to a 13-point lead.

West Ranch’s Adam Nowakowski partially blocked a Lancaster punt midway through the first quarter, and tailback Zak Snell scored from 16-yards out with three minutes left in the first quarter.

West Ranch kicker Brady Stuart nailed a pair of field goals from 28 yards and 23 yards to give West Ranch a 13-0 lead heading into halftime.

Stuart also made a huge play early in the second quarter when Lancaster’s Melvin Stovall broke free on a kickoff return.

Stovall was contained by Stuart before being run out of bounds, saving a touchdown.

Lancaster head coach Chad Shrout was not happy with his team’s first half.

“A little talking to at halftime never hurt anybody,” he said. “If we would have played hard at the beginning of the game it wouldn’t have been so exciting at the end. The kids never give up.”

The Eagles cut the score to 13-7 when Oliver hit Michael Williams from 22-yards out, and Lancaster controlled field position for a good portion of the third quarter.

But West Ranch stopped the Eagles on a fake punt, and three plays later, Eichten found his tight end James McGough for a 24-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 20-7 late in the third.

“The fake punt’s huge,” O’Brien said. “It gives us the ball about 35 to 40 yards from where we would have had it.”
And the quick score?

“A lot of that was Connor,” O’Brien said. “He calms everyone around him. You don’t want to be so emotional that you can’t concentrate.”

Lancaster didn’t help itself by committing seven penalties for 60 yards.

Eichten finished 6-of-14 for 122 yards and the three touchdown passes. The running game was largely stymied, with Snell racking up 40 yards.

Oliver and Blais combined to throw for 190 yards and hit seven different receivers, while Barnes had 64 yards on 11 carries.

“This is pretty important,” Szymanski said of West Ranch’s first win. “It gives us confidence going into the next game.”

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