Playing against Banning High School Friday, October 5th, the Venice High School Gondoliers were faced with the kind of situation they remember all too well against a different opponent last season, but unfortunately it had the same result.

Trailing the visiting Banning High Pilots by two points with 1:40 remaining in the non-league game, the Gondoliers (4-1) had to go for a two-point conversion if they were going to avoid their first defeat of the season.

But Banning (5-0) was ready for the play and stopped Gondo star senior running back Curtis McNeal in his tracks, preserving the lead until the Pilots could run out the clock for a 21-19 upset of Venice, ranked 12th in the Southland by the Los Angeles Times.

The two teams were both undefeated heading into the game and knew the battle would set the tone for their path in the city playoffs, but it was Banning, ranked fifth by the Daily Breeze, who walked away unbeaten. Venice entered the game off a high point after capturing a victory over defending state champion Oaks Christian High.

In the quarterfinals of the Los Angeles City Section Championships last season against San Pedro, Venice also decided to try for two points in the remaining minutes but that time the Gondos only trailed by one. The play ended up being similar to the one in the Banning game, as San Pedro stopped McNeal short of the end zone and erased Venice’s hopes for the city title.

“The same thing happened last year against San Pedro,” recalled Venice senior quarterback Richard Ragland, adding that his team had faith that they could convert the play this time.

Ragland had put the Gondos in position to tie the score when he connected with senior wide receiver Que Sean Gregory for a 69-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. The Gondos knew they had to respond after Banning wasted a chunk of the clock in scoring a touchdown on a 30-yard run by junior tailback Josh Limosnero for a 21-13 lead.

While Venice got the touchdown it needed, the Pilots were prepared for the Gondos’ next play. The victory gave some redemption to the Pilots, who were defeated twice by the Gondoliers last season, including a 55-7 blowout in the first round of the city playoffs.

“We could’ve made better decisions and better plays,” Ragland, who finished 13-of-20 for 255 yards passing and three touchdowns, said of the loss.

Venice got off to a troubling start against the Pilots with two turnovers in its first two possessions of the game. First it was an interception by Ragland and then the Gondos fumbled the football in the end zone, which was recovered by Banning.

The Pilots capitalized on the first Venice turnover, scoring on a seven-yard touchdown by senior quarterback Anthony Rodriguez.

In Banning’s first drive of the second quarter, the Venice defense recovered a Pilot turnover of their own, which set up the Gondos’ first touchdown of the night. Ragland threw a 35-yard pass that sailed over a Banning defender and into the hands of McNeal for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:16 left before halftime. It was McNeal’s only touchdown of the night, as the Banning defense limited the running back’s ground game to 70 yards on ten carries.

Strong defense on both sides forced the teams to punt in their remaining possessions of the half, leaving the score tied at halftime.

Ragland put the Gondos ahead 13-7 with a ten-yard touchdown pass to Gregory with 7:05 remaining in the third quarter. Gregory finished with six receptions for 156 yards in the game.

But it was then that Banning ran out the rest of the clock in the third quarter, with the help of Limosnero, who ran on six consecutive plays. The Pilots continued the drive into the fourth quarter, converting three fourth-down plays on the way to a five-yard touchdown run by senior Michael Calloway. The play put Banning ahead 14-13 and capped an 11-minute drive.

Venice faced more trouble in its next drive after Ragland was sacked and Banning recovered a fumble at its 35-yard line.

The turnover allowed the Pilots to go up eight points on the touchdown by Limosnero, giving them the cushion they needed to finish off with the victory. Limosnero led Banning with 32 carries for 169 yards rushing.

As Venice enters Western League play, Ragland said the team plans to “continue to work hard” to try to earn yet another league title.

Venice will next host Westchester High School in a league game at 7 p.m. Friday, October 12th.

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