WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. -
Jim Benkert can finally get some sleep. And munch on a burger. Preferably not in that order.
The Westlake (Westlake Village, Calif.
) High School coach said he hasn't got a wink in three days but should rest soundly after his Warriors pulled out a fairly convincing 31-12 victory at Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.)
before 6,000 fans jammed into vibrant Thorson Stadium.
Athletic 6-foot, 190-pound senior quarterback Nick Isham
overcame two early turnovers to complete 20-of-26 for 289 yards while accounting for three touchdowns as the Warriors won the initial battle of Westlake Village. Both of his touchdown passes went to even more athletic 6-2, 190-pound receiver Nelson Spruce, who finished with seven catches for 130 yards.
"It feels great," Benkert said. "And it will feel even better to finally get some sleep. First I need a hamburger."
It took all the strength Benkert could muster to get through this highly-anticipated game. All the seats were filled an hour before the game and the energy was palpable.
The two campus are "a stone throw's away," Benkert said, and locals have been talking about this possible match-up since Oaks Christian was opened 11 years ago. When Oaks Christian - a perennial national power the last six years and State Bowl champ in 2006 - joined the Marmonte League this season, the talk turned to a boatload of hyperbole and hype.
Westlake, with more than three times the enrollment, came in as the fourth-ranked team in the country and the heavy favorite. It didn't disappoint, piling up 417 yards and forcing three second-half turnovers to win going away.
"I feel very fortunate to even be a part of this game," Spruce said. "Everyone had circled the calendar ever since (Oaks Christian) joined the league. And getting a chance to win is a great feeling."
Isham threw touchdown passes of 8 and 21 yards to Spruce
, the second of which put Westlake (4-0, 3-0) in complete command with 3:38 left in the third quarter.
It came one play after Westlake recovered a fumble, and two plays following an Isham 1-yard touchdown, giving the Warriors a 28-12 lead. Alex Ball
, a lethal weapon on his own, booted a 26-yard field goal with 7:26 remaining for the final margin.
"He's a great athlete and a great receiver," Isham said Spruce. "He ran a great route (on the second touchdown) and as long as you throw a catch-able pass to him, good things are going to happen."
Good things happened for a little more than two quarters for Oaks Christian (2-2), before as coach Bill Redell said "we shot our selves in the foot." Richie Harrington
's second touchdown pass of the game to Duke-bound receiver Blair Holliday
, a 9-yarder early in the second half closed the deficit to 14-12. Harrington's two-point conversion attempt looked like he crossed the line, but the referees ruled no good.
It was pretty much no good the rest of the way for the Lions (2-2, 2-1 league), who gave up 17 unanswered points.
"We did some good things tonight but the mistakes killed us and we fell short," said Oaks Christian receiver Jordan Payton
, who has committed to USC. He led all receivers with 10 catches 78 yards. "(Westlake) is a great football team. Nick Isham is a great quarterback. ... Spruce. ... they're just a great team. We'll see them again in the playoffs.
"We just have to take care of the league games and get back to work."
After Oaks Christian pulled out a wild 33-32 win over St. Bonaventure, Benkert believed this was pretty much a must-win for Westlake. The Warriors now control their destiny, which would have been the Lions' fate with a victory.
Both teams missed early long field goals, until Tavior Mowry (20 carries, 104 yards) ran through a big hole on the right side for a 3-yard touchdown to give Westlake a 7-0 lead with 10:34 left in the second quarter.
Oaks Christian answered following an interception by Brian Fifita when Holliday, a graceful 6-3, 185-pound senior, made a beautiful, leaping 23-yard TD grab from Harrington with 3:19 left in the half. The extra point kick attempt failed and Westlake remained up 7-6.
"They have some big, talented receivers," Benkert said. "I was really worried how we would be able to contain them but other than a couple times, I was really pleased how our corners responded."
It was Isham and Tre'shon Wilson who responded immediately, hooking up on a pretty 63-yard bomb down the left sideline, setting up Spruce's first TD, an 8-yard out with 31.5 seconds left in the half. That gave Westlake all the momentum heading into the second half.
Though Oaks Christian made some noise early in the second half, it was pretty much all Isham the final 24 minutes.
"Nick is a great quarterback," Spruce said. "He was making a lot of great checks and reads and putting the ball right where it needed to be. When Nick is on, we're pretty much unstoppable."
"The Isham kid is outstanding," he said "Some colleges like Oregon or Utah better look at him. If they don't the coaches there should have their heads examined."
Redell, College Hall of Fame player at Occidental and Canadian Football League standout, called Westlake "one of the best teams I've seen in 23 years of coaching high school."
But he wasn't conceding anything. In fact, he was highly encouraged the Oaks Christian's effort and to a large degree performance.
"Hopefully we'll improve and see them again in the playoffs," he said. "Hey listen, we had a good run and we'll continue to have a good run. But it doesn't hurt to be humbled once in a while." Westlake 31, Oaks Christian 12
Westlake 0 14 14 3 - 31
Oaks Christian 0 6 6 0 - 12Second quarter
W - Tavior Mowry 3 run (Alex Ball kick), 10:34
OC - Blair Holliday 23 pass from Richie Harrington (kick failed), 3:19
W - Nelson Spruce 8 pass from Nick Isham (Ball kick), 31.5Third quarter
OC - Holliday 9 pass from Harrington (run failed), 10:52
W - Isham 1 run (Ball kick), 4:55
W - Spruce 21 pass from Isham (Ball kick), 3:38Fourth quarter
W - FG, Ball 26, 7:26Team statistics
Rushes-yards: OC 28-102, W 26-127
Passing: OC 21-32-2-174; W 20-26-1-289
Total yards: OC 276, W 416
Turnovers: OC 3, W 3Individual statisticsRushing
OC - Ishmael Adams 12-32, Cole Brownell 5-31, Holliday 4-23, Carlos Mendoz 4-21, Harrington 3-(-5). W - Tavior Mowry 20-104, Isham 6-23. Passing
OC - Harrington 21-32-2-174; W Isham 20-26-1-289. Receiving
OC - Jordan Payton 10-78, Holliday 6-76, Chris Davis 4-14, Adams 1-6. W - Spruce 7-130, Fry 4-34, Tre'shon Wilson 3-79, Cody Tuttle 3-16, Mowry 2-18, Justin Moore 1-12. Tackles
OC - Ronny Camacho 26, Brian Fifita 15, Dillon Van Der Wall 12. W - Max Winsberg 12, jack Shepherd 12, Justin Solis 8. Records:
Westlake 4-0, Oaks Christian 2-2.