Any signs of defeat from the previous week were a distant memory for the Venice High School Gondoliers Friday, October 12th, as they sailed to a dominating 42-3 victory over the visiting Westchester High School Comets in the teams’ Western League opener.

The Gondoliers (5-1, 1-0), ranked 20th in the Southland by the Los Angeles Times, got back to business after suffering their first loss of the season 21-19 to Banning High School October 5th. The defeat came after Venice picked up two key victories over rival Santa Monica High and defending state champion Oaks Christian.

Venice coach Angelo Gasca acknowledged his team’s disappointment with their narrow loss to Banning but said the Gondos were ready to focus on the rest of the season, starting with Westchester.

“Unfortunately we lost a game, but we have to move forward,” Gasca said.

With the start of Western League play this year, the defending co-league champion Gondoliers have begun the part of the season that they have ruled in recent years and Westchester (2-4, 0-1) became their first victim. Since earning a 6-4 victory over Washington High September 21st, the Comets have suffered three consecutive losses.

The Comets knew they had to start strong if they were going to topple the defending league champion, but they were unable to keep up with Venice, which led 35-0 at halftime.

“We were trying to come out hard from the start and keep up the tempo through the fourth quarter,” said Chris Jacobs, who led Westchester with five carries for 64 yards and stepped in at quarterback after starter Herman Evans got injured. “The defense did pretty good. We started out rocky but we played good fundamental football.”

It was Venice that came out tough from the beginning, as the Gondoliers scored on their first possession with a two-yard touchdown run by senior Raymond Gordon. The Gondos held a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, after senior quarterback Richard Ragland connected with senior Curtis McNeal for a 53-yard touchdown pass.

“We came out fast and played hard,” said Gasca, referring to his team’s early lead. “We took the game right away.”

After Westchester was forced to punt in its first drive of the second quarter, Ragland threw another 31-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jerry Johnson, who ran down the sideline for the score.

Ragland finished ten-of-18 for 198 yards passing and three touchdowns in the game.

The Westchester offense was unable to get a first down in any of its possessions in the second quarter, while Venice managed to complete all of its drives in the quarter with a touchdown.

McNeal, who finished with 12 carries for 82 yards rushing and three touchdowns, capped a six-minute drive in the second quarter by running for a one-yard touchdown to give Venice a comfortable 28-0 lead with 2:19 remaining before halftime.

The Venice defense then recovered a Westchester fumble in the ensuing drive, setting up another Gondo touchdown on a 35-yard pass by Ragland to Johnson.

Jacobs put the Comets in good position at the start of the second half when he returned the kickoff to the Venice 47-yard line, but Westchester was unable to finish off the drive with a score after they recovered their own fumble for a loss of 22 yards.

Jacobs later passed for a touchdown but it was nullified on a holding penalty. The Comets still managed to get their only score of the game during the drive with a 23-yard field goal to trail 35-3 at 3:54 in the third quarter.

But Venice wasn’t done scoring. After J.R. McConico intercepted a Jacobs pass and returned it 50 yards to the West- chester four-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter, McNeal dove two yards into the end zone for one more touchdown.

Despite Venice’s convincing victory to start league play, Gasca said the Gondos will need to make some improvements, particularly with passing, as they work toward the city playoffs.

“We need to sharpen up our passing game and keep playing hard,” Gasca said.

The Gondoliers will next host Hamilton High School in a league game at 7 p.m. Friday, October 19th.

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