With one of their preseason goals already secured, the Venice High School Gondoliers are ready to aim for their true objective.
The Gondoliers earned at least a share of the Western League Championship with a commanding 55-24 victory over the host University High School Wildcats Friday afternoon, November 3rd.
The victory continues Venice’s reign over the league the last few years and checks off one of the team’s season-long ambitions — a league title.
Venice shared the league crown with Fairfax High last season, but this year it appears that the Gondos (7-2, 4-0) are in a league of their own.
The Gondos will take the outright league title if they win their last league game against visiting Palisades High at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 9th. Hamilton High School, which lost 55-27 to Venice, is currently in second place in the league.
While Venice, ranked 21st in the Southland by the Los Angeles Times, is pleased to add another league title to its resume, coach Angelo Gasca said his players still have an even bigger trophy in mind this season — the Los Angeles City Section Championship.
“It feels good and it rewards the players for their hard work,” Gasca said of the league title. “I’m happy for them, but we’ve got our eye on a bigger prize.”
Venice junior quarterback Richard Ragland echoed his coach’s comments, saying the Gondoliers are focused on achieving their first city title.
“From the beginning of the season our plan was to come out and win the league title,” Ragland said. “The next step is the city championship.”
In the victory over University High (6-3, 2-2), the Gondos got another big night from both Ragland and junior running back Curtis McNeal.
McNeal, who has had a string of giant performances, including a seven-touchdown effort against Hamilton High, finished with 14 carries for 256 yards rushing and three touchdowns against University.
Ragland was also a major contributor by finishing nine-of-16 passing for 208 yards and scoring four touchdowns in the game.
“We call ourselves the one-two punch,” Ragland said.
McNeal stepped up for Venice right away when he ran 86 yards for a touchdown on the team’s first play from scrimmage in the first quarter to give the Gondos a 7-0 lead that they never gave up.
University answered in its next drive, when senior quarterback Shawn Angel connected with senior Titus Young on a nine-yard touchdown pass, but the Wildcats missed the two-point conversion attempt to take the lead at 2:19 in the first quarter.
McNeal added another 15-yard touchdown run for Venice at the start of the second quarter and Venice jumped even further ahead after senior De’eron Bishop intercepted a tipped pass by Angel at the University 46-yard line.
Ragland converted the turnover into a score with a nine-yard touchdown pass to junior Kris Johnson to give Venice a 21-6 lead.
The Venice defense kept up the pressure in University’s next drive, when junior Chris Woods intercepted another pass by Angel.
But University made up for the turnover when Young intercepted a Ragland pass and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown to cut the Venice lead to 21-12 with 5:51 remaining in the first half.
After McNeal scored his third touchdown of the game in the middle of the third quarter, University was able to answer one more time before halftime.
The Wildcats kept the drive alive with a fake punt and then grabbed the final touchdown of the first half on a six-yard pass by Angel to Young to keep University close behind at 28-18 at halftime.
But the Wildcats wouldn’t get any closer, as Venice found the end zone immediately in the second half when Ragland threw a 70-yard pass to junior Jerry Johnson on the first play from scrimmage.
University faced even more trouble in its first two drives of the third quarter, when the Venice defense picked up two interceptions.
The Gondos continued to tack on points, including a 28-yard touchdown run and a 30-yard touchdown pass by Ragland, which gave Venice a 49-18 lead and put the game away with 35 seconds left in the third quarter.
With Venice’s recent series of commanding performances in league play, Gasca said he is confident in his team’s ability to challenge for the city championship.
“I think we’re one of the better teams in the City Section,” Gasca said.