With the score tied 17-17 and his team 84 yards away from the end zone, Venice High School sophomore quarterback Richard Ragland was ready to lead his team to a key Western League victory over visiting Westchester High School Friday, October 28th.
Even without his star senior running back, Ken Ashley, to help him travel down the field, Ragland was prepared to take the victory.
He did just that, by entering the end zone on a one-yard quarterback sneak with only 15 seconds remaining to give the Gondoliers a 23-17 win over the Comets.
“I tried to make it with no pressure on myself,” said Ragland, who finished 13-of-28 for 189 yards passing and had two interceptions in the game.
“I was trying to think positive and to have trust in my team.”
Venice (6-2, 2-1) came into the game following its first league loss in four years to Fairfax High and the Gondoliers knew what was at stake if they are going to earn a fourth-straight league championship and high spot in the City Championship playoffs this season.
“A lot of teams in the league have one loss,” Venice coach Angelo Gasca said.
“This (victory) keeps us in the race for a co-championship and it means a lot to do that.”
Westchester (4-4, 1-2) also knew the importance of the game in the league-title race and although the Comets fought back late to tie the score, they came up short in the end.
“I thought we would be able to stop them,” Westchester assistant coach Robert Otis said. “We gave them extra plays and with a team like Venice you can’t do that. We paid for it on the last drive.”
Both teams were without their top senior running back. Ashley was taken out of the game with an illness after scoring Venice’s first touchdown and Westchester running back Gregory Ray was still out with a knee injury.
Westchester was trailing 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Comets got back in the game when senior quarterback Duron Sylvester threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Isiah Barton with 8:24 to play.
The Comets then recovered a Venice turnover in the ensuing kickoff return at the Gondo 15-yard line.
But two big defensive plays for Venice by senior lineman Michael Munoz and senior defensive back Greg Herd prevented Westchester from entering the end zone.
The Comets managed to get a 30-yard field goal by senior kicker Waldo Amador to even the game at 17-17 with 6:52 remaining in the game.
The Gondos had more trouble in their next drive when a fumble by Ragland was recovered by Westchester senior defensive back Donovan Dias at the Venice 21-yard line.
Westchester appeared to be in good position to take the lead but Sylvester was downed on a fourth-and-three play, allowing Ragland and Venice to begin their game-winning drive.
“Some of us had our heads down but I was trying to get the whole team ready and tell them that the game is not over yet,” Ragland said.
Venice was in control for most of the first half and scored in its first drive of the game when Ragland connected with Ashley on a 27-yard touchdown pass. It was at this point that Ashley was then taken out of the game because of the illness.
Gasca acknowledged a key empty spot in the offense with the absence of Ashley, but sophomore Curtis McNeal and senior Jonas Mouton stepped up to take over the Venice rushing duties.
Ragland put the Gondos ahead 14-0 on a 40-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver James Hood with eight minutes left in the second quarter.
The Comets answered in their ensuing drive when Sylvester, who finished six-of-20 for 126 yards passing, threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Barton to cut the Venice lead to 14-7 before halftime.
Barton finished with three receptions for 96 yards for Westchester.
In Venice’s first drive of the second half, senior Juan Siquenza kicked a 42-yard field goal to stretch the lead to 17-7.
The Comets started to turn things around when junior Khallid Muhammad grabbed his second interception of the night in the middle of the third quarter, but Westchester could not hold off Venice for good.
After defeating a tough league opponent in Westchester, Ragland said the Gondos are ready to put away the remaining competition on their path to another league title.
“We have to continue to work hard and hopefully we’ll become the league number one,” Ragland said.