Venice High School football coach Angelo Gasca has seen his team experience a rebirth this season since the Gondoliers entered Western League play.
The Gondoliers dealt with a series of frustrations in the first part of the season, as they opened the year with five consecutive losses. But Venice (3-5, 3-0) appears to be breathing new life since returning to the Western League, where it has either won or shared the league championship the past few seasons.
The team has now racked up three consecutive league victories, most recently a convincing 42-15 win over visiting Palisades High School Thursday, October 30th.
“We’ve had kind of a resurgence,” said Gasca, explaining his team’s transformation after beginning the league season.
The Venice coach noted how the Gondos’ five losses came against challenging opponents such as rival Santa Monica and Oaks Christian high schools, but the players have been determined to turn things around. The team is also adjusting to the loss of many key senior players from last season, including running back Curtis McNeal and quarterback Richard Ragland.
“We feel very fortunate to get back into this position and it’s a credit to the players,” Gasca said.
Junior running back Aaron Jones reiterated his coach’s sentiments about the turn of events for Venice.
“We feel real good,” said Jones, who finished with 11 carries for 87 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the win over Palisades. “We’re just making up for what we didn’t do earlier [in the season] and we’ll try to keep up what we’re doing.”
Gasca attributed the Gondos’ change of path to switching some key players’ positions, which has helped open up the field.
“For us, it was about finding out who fit where,” the coach said.
Venice got off to a quick start against the Palisades Dolphins (4-4, 1-2), scoring in its first three drives to take a 21-0 lead at 3:33 in the first quarter.
The momentum did not seem to shift in the second quarter for Venice, which added two more touchdowns to take a comfortable 35-7 lead into halftime. Palisades managed to slow Venice down a bit in the second half, holding the Gondos to just one touchdown, but it was too much of a deficit to overcome.
“We made some new plays, got more people on the field, and we executed,” Jones said. “The first play set the tone.”
That first play was a long 87-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff return by senior J.R. McConico.
It didn’t take long for the Gondoliers to get into position to score again, after junior Jonathan McNeal intercepted a pass by Palisades quarterback Conner Preston and returned it to the Dolphin 25-yard line. Jones converted the play into a score for Venice on a five-yard touchdown run.
In the ensuing drive, junior quarterback Alfonso Medina helped take Venice down the field and connected with wide receiver Teondray Caldwell for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Gondos ahead 21-0. Medina finished 12-of-14 passing for 206 yards and two touchdowns for Venice.
After Jones gave Venice a fourth touchdown at the start of the second quarter, Palisades picked up its first touchdown of the game when running back Khalid Stevens broke for a 51-yard run. Stevens finished with 14 carries for 160 yards rushing.
The Dolphins were again in position to score in the quarter, but McNeal sacked Preston for a 15-yard loss on fourth down, securing the Gondos’ lead at halftime.
Venice continued to add to its advantage when Jones scored his third touchdown during the team’s first possession of the second half on a seven-yard run. The Dolphins did manage one more score after they recovered a Venice fumble in the fourth quarter. Preston, who finished 22-of-29 passing for 226 yards, threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Stevens to finish the drive.
Now that Venice has changed its course, Jones says the Gondoliers plan to “take it one game at a time” for the remainder of the season as they aim for a potential run at the City Section championship.
Gasca added that his players have achieved their goal of improving and will now work toward defending their league crown.
“The only thing that matters now is the next game,” Gasca said.
Venice will face its next league game against visiting Fairfax High School, which is also undefeated in the league, at 7 p.m. Friday, November 7th.