The Westchester High School football players and coach seemed to be in agreement that the team’s second-half performance was not up to standard, allowing Gardena High School to battle back and defeat the host Comets 20-13 Friday, October 7th.
Westchester (3-2) appeared to be in good shape with a 13-0 lead heading into the second half.
But Gardena (3-2) got on the scoreboard almost immediately in the third quarter with a 65-yard touchdown by running back Marquiese Reed on the first play.
The Comets were held scoreless after halftime by an aggressive Gardena defense, and the Panthers took advantage by adding two more touchdowns, including the game winner with only 32.7 seconds remaining.
“We have to give credit to a tenacious team,” Westchester coach David Williams said of the Panthers. “We have got to refocus and pay more attention to details. We need to bounce back.”
The non-league match-up pitted number-ten ranked Gardena against number-seven ranked Westchester, according to the Daily Breeze, and both teams were focused on earning victories before the start of league play Friday, October 14th.
Westchester came into the game following a 48-42 win over Cathedral High School, but Gardena was ready to make up for a 48-0 blowout loss to Taft High School.
It was the Comets that made the first move in the game with a touchdown by senior running back Gregory Ray, who left Gardena players behind on a 65-yard run with five minutes left in the first quarter.
Ray extended the Comet lead to 13-0 after a three-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
But Ray sprained his knee on a play shortly afterwards and contributed on only two plays in the second half.
The running back said that although his team got off to a good start with the opening touchdowns, Westchester was unable to find the same success afterward.
“Everything left and we didn’t execute well,” said Ray, who finished with six carries for 77 yards rushing. “We just weren’t there.”
Comet running back Desean Rogers agreed with his teammate and said Westchester’s second-half struggles were attributed to “mental mistakes.”
Rogers, who finished with seven carries for 69 yards rushing, stepped in to take over the job of Ray.
“I tried to come in and do the same job he was doing,” Rogers said of Ray.
Rogers helped put the Comets in scoring position at the Gardena one-yard line in the middle of the second quarter.
But that’s as close as Westchester got to a third touchdown, after the team picked up back-to-back penalties. Comet senior quarterback Duron Sylvester was sacked in the next play and kicker Waldo Amador then missed the field goal attempt.
Gardena looked to be on the way to its first score late in the second quarter after a 24-yard pass completion by quarterback Dominique Blackman brought the team to the Westchester 15-yard line.
But Westchester defensive back Edward Long prevented the potential Gardena score by intercepting a Blackman pass.
The Panthers’ troubles ended there, as Gardena opened the second half with the touchdown by Reed, who finished with 157 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Long came up with another big defensive play after he recovered a Panther fumble to stop another potential touchdown by Gardena late in the third quarter.
Westchester, which struggled with passing for most of the game, could not take advantage of the Gardena turnover and was forced to punt.
The Comets held on to their 13-6 lead going in to the fourth quarter, but Gardena quickly tied the score on a six-yard touchdown run by Steve Cameron.
Westchester failed to convert another fumble recovery with four minutes remaining after the Gardena defense halted the drive on a fourth-down play.
The defensive stop by Gardena set up its winning drive that was completed with a one-yard touchdown run by junior fullback Michael Evans.
The Comets picked up their lone first down of the second half in the final seconds after a pass completion by Sylvester, who finished six-of-15 for 70 yards passing.
Williams said Gardena’s comeback was a result of “a lot of intermediate passes in conjunction with a power running game.”
“They executed when they had to,” Williams said.