What appeared to be a promising run to the Los Angeles City Section Championship for Venice High School came to an end in the playoff quarterfinals Wednesday, November 22nd, when the host Gondoliers narrowly lost 27-26 to the San Pedro High School Pirates.
The third-seeded Gondoliers (9-3) came into the game following a dominating 55-7 victory over Banning High School in the first round.
Venice was looking to continue the momentum against sixth-seeded San Pedro (11-1) and took a 20-14 lead into halftime, but the Pirates managed to battle back and earned the victory after halting a crucial two-point conversion attempt by the Gondos with less than three minutes to play.
San Pedro had overtaken the lead at 27-20 when running back J’Vone Hibbler scored a two-yard running touchdown with 8:14 remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Gondos came back with a score of their own to put themselves in position to retake the lead.
Junior running back Curtis McNeal, who finished with 16 carries for 98 yards rushing, cut the deficit to 27-26 with a five-yard touchdown run with 2:51 remaining in the game.
The Gondos then decided to go for the lead on a two-point conversion attempt, but were stopped by the San Pedro defense, which held McNeal short of the end zone, keeping Venice narrowly behind.
The Pirates were then able to close out the game and grabbed the upset victory, ending Venice’s hopes for its first City Championship.
It was the second consecutive year that Venice’s run in the city playoffs ended in the quarterfinals, after the Gondos were defeated by Crenshaw High School last season.
With San Pedro’s victory over Venice, the Pirates will next face seventh-seeded Carson High School in the playoff semifinals Friday, December 1st. Carson upset second-seeded Dorsey High School 38-20 November 22nd.
While Venice fell short of its goal of a city title this season, the Gondos had yet another successful regular season, capturing the Western League Championship with an undefeated league record of 5-0.
The Gondos cruised through the first round of the playoffs with the win over Banning and got off to a good start against San Pedro before the Pirates were able to come back in the second half.
McNeal, who finished with three touchdowns, gave Venice its first score on a three-yard run and junior quarterback Richard Ragland scored a seven-yard running touchdown to put the Gondos ahead 12-0 in the first quarter.
Ragland then connected with McNeal on a 23-yard touchdown pass to take a 20-7 lead in the second quarter, but San Pedro began its comeback effort from there.
Ragland finished 20-of-30 passing for 244 yards in the game.
Both Ragland and McNeal, who will return next year for their senior season, should again be major forces for the Venice offense.