Venice High School senior running back Kenny Ashley acknowledged that the challenge from his team’s first-round playoff opponent Jordan High School did not go away until the very end.
The Venice Gondoliers (9-2) held a 34-19 lead late in the third quarter of the Los Angeles City Section Championship Division game Thursday, November 17th, but visiting Jordan fought back and was in a position to take the victory in its final drive, until it made a costly mistake.
The Bulldogs (8-3) had made it to the Venice ten-yard line with 15 seconds remaining, but senior quarterback Jerry Jackson mistakenly spiked the football on a fourth-down play, allowing the Gondoliers to take over and hold off Jordan for a 37-34 victory.
“They played a hell of a game,” said Ashley, who finished with 23 carries for 209 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
“We should have closed them out sooner. They played hard and didn’t quit and it shows us that we need to step up our game.”
Venice coach Angelo Gasca also gave credit to the “tough” opponent’s effort in the battle, but acknowledged that the mistake on fourth down ultimately decided the game.
“I knew it was fourth down,” Gasca said. “It was just down to who had the ball last.”
With seventh-seeded Venice’s first-round victory over tenth-seeded Jordan, the Gondoliers next face host Crenshaw High School in the second-round game at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 23rd.
Venice, which was knocked out of the City playoffs by Crenshaw in the second round last year, will try to avenge the defeat against this year’s second-seeded team.
“Crenshaw is real tough,” Ashley said. “We look forward to getting on the field with them and showing them that we’re better than last year.”
While the Jordan Bulldogs were able to threaten Venice until the final seconds, Ashley said the Gondo defense was focused on making a stop to allow the offense to get back on the field and take the victory.
After Venice held a 20-6 lead at halftime, the Bulldogs cut the deficit in their first drive of the second half when senior Rashad Newsome, who finished with nine carries for 120 yards rushing, sprinted 63 yards for a touchdown.
The Gondos were not impressed and were able to jump out to a 34-13 lead after five minutes with two touchdowns of their own.
Ashley scored on a two-yard run, and an interception by senior cornerback Chris Woodard set up Venice’s next touchdown, which came off a long 90-yard pass by sophomore quarterback Richard Ragland to senior Jonas Mouton.
Ragland completed seven of 20 passes for 172 yards, and Mouton caught three passes for 94 yards in the game.
But Jordan did not let up and came right back with two more touchdowns, including an 80-yard pass by Jackson to senior Ricky Thenarse and a 26-yard run by Newsome to cut the Venice lead to 34-26 at the end of the third quarter.
In the first drive of the fourth quarter, Venice senior kicker Juan Siquenza gave the Gondos what would end up being the deciding points in the game with a 37-yard field goal.
The field goal kept Venice ahead despite one last big touchdown by the Bulldogs on a 70-yard pass by Jackson to Thenarse, who caught four passes for 183 yards in the game.
Jordan’s ability to stay close behind Venice was due in large part to the passing performance of Jackson, who finished eight-of-17 for 279 yards.
Both Venice and Jordan had fumbles in their opening drive of the game that were recovered by the opponent, but it was Venice that scored first, with a 45-yard touchdown run by Ashley.
Another 33-yard touchdown run by Ashley put the Gondos ahead 14-0 with 8:22 remaining in the second quarter. Jordan responded with its first score on a five-yard touchdown run by senior running back Carell Johnson.
Venice was not done with its first-half scoring effort and got a big boost on a 42-yard punt return by Ashley to the Jordan seven-yard line with only 24.7 seconds left before halftime.
The Gondos added the final score of the first half with a nine-yard touchdown pass by Ragland to senior wide receiver Jerome Lowe.
“I try to play my best game in the playoffs,” Ashley said. “I’m trying to get a ring.”