The Venice High School Gondoliers football team continued to use its arsenal this season, a big performance by running back Ken Ashley and strong defense, to defeat Franklin High 21-13 in the first round of the Los Angeles City Championship Division playoffs Thursday, November 18th.
Venice (8-2), the fourth seed in the playoffs and Western League champions, faced another league champion in 13th-seed Franklin (9-2) of the Northern League.
But the Gondos, who reached the city championship final last season, weren’t about to be topped on their own field.
The victory assured Venice another home game for the playoff quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 24th, when the Gondos will face fifth- seed Crenshaw High, who defeated Gardena 28-0 in the first round.
“Any playoff win is great, but it was tough,” Venice coach Angelo Gasca said. “We’re very happy we were able to survive.”
The Gondos didn’t need to worry about survival as long as Ashley was on, and the junior running back didn’t let Venice down as he racked up all three touchdowns.
The Gondos had a 14-7 lead at halftime, thanks to Ashley, who punished Franklin in its first drive when he escaped the defense to return a punt 55 yards for a touchdown.
“That was a big TD because it would’ve been a dogfight the whole way without that,” said Ashley, who credited his offensive line for his scoring efforts
“They played their hearts out. It’s their TDs and yards, and I’m just doing what they allow.”
Ashley, who had 25 carries for 122 yards rushing in the game and has over 1,500 rushing yards this season, stretched the lead to 14-0 on a powerful six-yard touchdown run at 7:39 in the second quarter.
Venice’s defense, led by senior linebackers Jimmy Miller and Victor Zeledon, contained Franklin early, forcing the Panthers to punt in their first four drives.
The defense even kept Franklin running back Brandon Torres, who had over 1,200 rushing yards this year, rather motionless for most of the first half.
“The defense has been good all year and they’re really underrated,” Gasca said. “Good defense wins championships.”
Torres, who finished with 14 carries for 107 yards, finally made an appearance when he slipped through a hole and left Venice defenders behind for a long 76-yard touchdown run late in the first half.
Franklin continued the momentum in the first drive of the second half when running back Vince Napoles brought the team down the field. Torres ended the drive on a five-yard touchdown run, but the Panthers missed the extra-point kick and a chance to even the score, trailing 14-13.
“A huge play was the missed extra point,” Gasca said. “It really deflated them.”
Venice began a charge down the field to add to its narrow lead when senior quarterback Robert Ambers connected with Jonas Mouton on a 20-yard pass. Ashley then had four consecutive carries and scored with a one-yard run into the end zone for a 21-13 lead with 1:13 left in the third quarter.
“We have so many weapons,” said Ambers, who has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards this season.
Franklin attempted to charge back, but Venice’s defense was too tough and forced a punt by the Panthers in three consecutive drives.
The Gondo defense, which held the Panthers to just 163 total offensive yards in the game, made up for a fourth-quarter Venice turnover by securing the playoff victory with a stop in Franklin’s last drive.
Venice may have had the right tools for the first round, but the Gondos will face a bigger test against Crenshaw, a team they beat 53-0 last year.
Ambers said his team will need to “stop the run and pick up the blitz” in order to move on.
“We need to be able to put a few more points on the scoreboard and continue to play defense the way we are,” Gasca said.
In other football playoff games:
Westchester High School junior running back Gregory Ray had an impressive night, scoring six rushing touchdowns in the first-round game of the Los Angeles City Invitational Division playoffs Thursday, November 18th.
But Ray’s effort wasn’t as exceptional as that of host North Hollywood’s star running back Marlon Lucky, who scored eight touchdowns in the 62-53 defeat of the Comets.
Westchester (3-8) earned the 15th seed in the Invitational division playoffs after finishing in fourth place in the Western League.
North Hollywood (9-3), the second seeded team, boosted ahead early with a 21-0 first quarter lead, courtesy of Lucky, who finished with 303 yards rushing in the game and scored two first-quarter touchdowns.
Ray, who was injured for most of the early season, put Westchester in the game with four second-quarter touchdowns to bring the Comets closer at 35-26 by halftime.
The Comets closed the gap to 35-33 when quarterback Duron Sylvester, who finished ten-of-20 for 185 yards passing, found Ray Reese for a 25-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.
North Hollywood, which will play Wilson High in the quarterfinals, then stretched its lead to 48-39 and did not fall behind for the rest of the game.
Ray, who had 20 carries for 287 yards rushing in the game, scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but Lucky’s performance was too much to overcome.
Westchester, which had nine players injured this season, will have many starters, including Ray and Sylvester, back for next season.
Santa Monica High School faced a tough defense in host Ventura High, and the Vikings scored their only touchdown with just 12 seconds left in a 35-6 loss in the first round of the Southern Section Division IV playoffs Friday, November 19th.
Santa Monica (6-5) earned its first trip to the playoffs under second-year coach Michael Burnett, after its third-place finish in the Ocean League this season.
Ventura (9-2) climbed to a 21-0 halftime lead after the defense, which held Santa Monica to 98 yards rushing in the game, shut out offensive drives by the Vikings.
Santa Monica struggled with injuries to players Robert Garcia, Albert Flores and Devin Packard, and was unable to stop Ventura’s scoring efforts.
The Vikings finally put a dent in the Ventura defense when quarterback Kevin Poindexter connected with wide receiver Jason Thompson for a seven-yard touchdown pass with only 12 seconds remaining in the game.
Ventura will play at Thousand Oaks High School in the second round of the Division IV playoffs.
Santa Monica may have fallen short in the playoffs, but the team came a long way to get there, capping off a winning season of improvement.