Wildcat gridders end season
by Jesse Phelps
Maybe it seems like it wasn't supposed to end like this for
Chris Gerhart and his four fellow seniors, mud-soaked and battered
after an all-out brawl, winless in their senior year. Yet there
on that rain-drenched, cleat-embossed swampland that passed for
a football field at Villanova Friday afternoon, Gerhart held
his head high after a season-ending loss to the Santa Clarita
Christian Cardinals, 26-14.
"You have no reason to hang your heads," said Villanova
coach John Muller. An assistant pointed out that on the final
play, with the contest out of reach, the team fought as hard
as on the first play of the game. "That's special,"
Gerhart sloshed through the mud for a few hard-earned yards here
and a bruising, sliding tackle there. For the first three quarters,
it looked as if Villanova might finish its season with a win.
Quarterback Nate Langelier scored on a 65 yard touchdown run
early in the second and kept the Wildcats moving throughout the
first half. The 'Cat defense was stingy as well. With 38 seconds
left in the half, Langelier came up big, stopping Cardinal quarterback
Caleb Sulham short on a fourth down inside the Villanova 10 yard
line to keep them out of the end zone.
"This is kind of what you dream about, being able to play
in a game like this," Muller said. "When the kids got
here in the morning, they just took a look at the field and they
just got excited. Everybody dreams of playing in this game."
When Kota Matsushige barreled in for an 11-yard score early in
the third quarter, Villanova was suddenly tied at 12. Muller,
realizing a point could make all the difference in a tough game
like this, called on his senior leader.
"On our two-point conversion, we put (Gerhart) in and we
changed the play at the last second because we wanted to give
him the ball and he got in. That's what a leader does,"
Muller explained. "He's a fantastic kid. He came back from
a little knee injury and he had a great game. He's the kind of
kid that you want out here."
But Santa Clarita had a couple of quality kids of their own.
Sulham and wide-out Steven Mercier, who scored two touchdowns,
took over. The two connected on a series of passes, and Sulham
connected with James Richardson for another touchdown late in
the third to grab a 20-14 lead.
On the Cardinals' subsequent possession, Matsushige recorded
a huge third-down sack and the drive-killing hit on Mercier on
fourth down. It opened up the opportunity to score, but a fumbled
snap gave the ball right back to the Cardinals.
Mercier's final touchdown came with two minutes to go in the
game and completed the scoring. Still Villanova fought to the
final whistle, trying to strip the ball on every play, displaying
the tenacity that made the coaching staff so proud a few minutes
'Nova coach John Muller glowed when prompted about Matsushige.
"He's coming back next year, he's a junior, so we're real
excited about that," he smiled.
In the end, game and season were not the type defined by stats,
numbers or records, but by the fight in a collective group which
has faced the toughest conditions together, embodied by a single
senior's head held high above his muddy uniform. Things are looking
bright not just for Chris Gerhart, but for all those moving
on and for the future of Wildcat football. Muller summed it up
by saying, "We're losing five great kids, great tough kids,
leader-type kids, but we've got about six juniors leading the
show next year, so we're excited."
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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DOUDS STRAINS for a few more feet, which paid as he ran for two
touchdowns in the first half. The weekend's rain prompted Thacher
players to call the game against Hillcrest "Mudbowl 2002."