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Prep football: A first for West Ranch

Wildcats football will play in postseason game No. 1 tonight

Posted: November 18, 2010 10:26 p.m.
Updated: November 19, 2010 4:55 a.m.

West Ranch running back Quaid Willis, left, tries to evade the tackle of Hart’s Aaron Porter (28) on Nov. 11 at College of the Canyons in a 37-21 Wildcats win.

West Ranch needed to play its best football the past two weeks to get into the postseason.

This week, it might have to play even better.

Making their first CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoff appearance, the Wildcats will face Palos Verdes at 7:30 p.m. at Redondo Union High School.

"At this point, the elation and joy of ‘Yay, we're here' is gone and now we're back to what we need to do," said West Ranch head coach Sean O'Brien.

Flash back to two weeks ago. The Wildcats stood at 1-2 in the Foothill League and were in desperate need of a win against Saugus just to stay in the playoff conversation.

"I'm not really a ‘find a moment' type of person, but if you wanted to find a moment in the season - to rally from against a tough Saugus defense and a tough grind-it-out offense - to rally from there, that's really where this team came together," O'Brien said.

A week later, in the regular-season finale, West Ranch had to beat Hart - a team that hadn't missed the playoffs in 30 years.

The Wildcats (6-4) answered the call both times.

It won't get easier against Palos Verdes.

The Sea Kings (9-1) finished second in the Bay League, only losing to league champion Mira Costa.

The records give Palos Verdes head coach Guy Gardner no reason to dismiss a first-time playoff team like West Ranch.
"We have a lot to be concerned with," Gardner said. "Obviously, they throw the ball and run the ball. They've got skill guys that can fly and two main running backs that can definitely run the ball and they're dangerous."

Running backs Andres Gutierrez and Quaid Willis took the bulk of the carries for the Wildcats in the past three weeks.

Gutierrez leads the team with 557 rushing yards on 84 carries.

The dual attack serves to set up West Ranch's potent passing game, which starts with quarterback Connor Eichten.

The senior has thrown for 2,096 yards, 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions this year.

It's a stark contrast to Palos Verdes, which likes to run the ball and slow the game down.

"We've got to do enough things to make this game about what we want to do, not what they want to do," O'Brien said.

Sea Kings running back Marc Sasso will likely lead the charge behind a big, physical offensive line.

Sasso has 1,210 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns this season, which leads the team in both categories by a wide margin.

"We need to match them physically, and deny what they're trying to do," O'Brien said. "We need to force them to throw the ball."

The Wildcats are confident they can win if it comes down to a passing battle, O'Brien said.

Eichten will just have to do what he's done all season - feed the ball to his weapons out wide in Josh Guzman and Rawston Redick.

But Gardner isn't writing off West Ranch's ground game.

"I think they're running game is kind of underrated," he said. "The numbers point to the passing game, but their running game really allows them to do what they do in the air I think - enough to keep you honest."

Whether it's through the air or on the ground, the Wildcats will have to go up against a defense that has allowed just 11.6 point per game this year. The total puts Palos Verdes in a tie for second-best scoring defense in the CIF-SS Northern Division.

"It's doable, but it's going to be tough," O'Brien said. "It's going to take our best effort."



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