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Vikes in familiar territory

Showdown set with the Marmonte League yet again

Posted: November 27, 2008 8:53 p.m.
Updated: November 28, 2008 4:55 a.m.
 
Things are starting to look familiar for Valencia.

Preparations for the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division quarterfinals are under way.

A staunch Marmonte League competitor waiting in the wings.

However, a few notable changes have occurred this time around.

For starters - a 9-2 season record entering the quarterfinals, compared to 7-3-1 campaign in 2007.

A second place finish in the Foothill League.

And perhaps a few lingering thoughts of a season cut short after a 29-28 quarterfinal loss to Newbury Park.

Earlier this season, Vikings head coach Larry Muir said that loss still resonated with him and some of the players.

It served as motivation for the Vikings season.
And from the looks of it, it's paid off.

Valencia will go on the road to face Westlake High tonight at 7 p.m.

Behind an efficient offense and a formidable defense, the Vikings continue to be a program to keep an eye on.

"They're a good football team and they have a lot of good athletes," said Westlake head coach Jim Benkert. "We have to try to slow them down. They have a very good offensive line and are well coached. They are a hard-nosed football team that gives everything they have. We got our hands full."

Overcoming the Vikings will be an arduous task for the Warriors, but the same goes for Valencia.

Westlake is among some of the elite programs in the Northern Division.

Finishing 7-4 in league behind powerhouses Moorpark, Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park, Westlake's mission is to continue the program's success in the postseason.

Benkert, in his 20th season with the Warriors, has led Westlake to two CIF championships, one in 1999 and the other in 2003.

Benkert's record with Westlake is 164-70 and he is currently Ventura County's all-time wins leader.

In 2006, Canyon knocked out Westlake in the semifinals on its way to a first-ever state championship.

And a surprising second round upset to St. Bonaventure last season spoiled the Warriors chances at another CIF title.
However, the road to tonight's quarterfinal matchup has been a rocky one for Westlake.

Starting senior quarterback Ben Conlin, has been plagued with a separated shoulder injury all season but still continued to play sharing time with sophomore Nick Isham.

However, Conlin's season ended after the damage and the pain of his injury became too much.

"We played a tough schedule and our kids learned to play at a high level," Benkert said. "We stumbled along the way but they just want to win."

Isham, who started this season at wide receiver stepped in as the team's full-time signal caller when Conlin became sidelined.

"Nick's not coming in green," Benkert said. "He's had some time as quarterback all season. He's done a great job for us."

One of Isham's standout performances came in last Friday's first round 36-35 win over a then undefeated Oxnard.

Isham completed 24-of-39 passes for 359 yards and scored the winning touchdown on a 12-yard run in the final minutes of the game.

"We've seen our share (of running quarterbacks)," Muir said. "It always strikes fear in you when a quarterback can run against you."

Benkert said Valencia and Westlake are very comparable. Like Valencia, Benkert said they like to mix up the offense.

Two-time All-League selections, receivers Steve Hagy and James De La Cerna lead the Warriors group of wideouts.
"I'm proud of those two," Benkert said. "They've done an excellent job. They complement each other well."

Defensively, the Warriors are just as threatening.

All-State selection Justin Lilley at linebacker leads the Warriors defensive corps.

"He's our big gun," Benkert said.

Despite lacking in size and speed, Benkert said he doesn't have any defensive starters over 190-pounds, Westlake's competitors are averaging 23.7 points per game.

"We're small and that's been a problem with us when we play big physical football teams," Benkert said. "It's created a lot of problems."

Muir said the keys to this contest are simple.

"It's a combination of two things - one, their passing attack. They're very efficient on running routes. Last week and before our pass defense hasn't done its part. The defensive line has to get pressure. (Isham's) a runner."

And both Muir and Benkert anticipate an exciting matchup.

"Anytime Foothill and Marmonte get together it's going to be a good football game," Benkert said. "Those are rivalries we want to continue."

wmcneal@the-signal.com


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