Rangers put Lions
in 'Strong' hold
By Jesse Phelps
The Nordhoff varsity football
team overcame a costly injury, a 15-point, third-quarter deficit
and several big penalties to beat the top team in CIF Southern
Section Division XI on Friday night at Ojai Valley Community
Stadium. The victory over previously undefeated Oaks Christian,
in which the Rangers improbably scored 22 fourth-quarter points,
gave Nordhoff the Tri-Valley League title and the No. 1 ranking
in CIF-SS Division XI poll, not to mention a probable No. 1 seed
for the upcoming playoffs.
For a while, it looked like it might be a romp for the home-standing
Nordhoff (8-1, 6-0) took the lead on its opening drive when senior
running back Josh Catlett got loose down the middle for a 19-yard
score. The Rangers increased their cushion to 13 when Clark Bigler
scored on a 32-yard fourth-down scamper with three minutes left
on the clock in the first quarter.
But then the tide turned. Oaks Christian (8-1, 4-1) got on the
board with a 10-yard end-around from Joe Giuliani with just seconds
remaining in the opening stanza. After star Nordhoff wide-out
and defensive back Andy Doyle broke his leg early in the second
quarter, the Lions capitalized by scoring again, this time on
a 5-yard run from Marc Tyler.
Tyler's second touchdown, a 3-yard touchdown with under a minute
remaining in the half, put the Lions up eight heading into the
What had started as a promising night for the Rangers now looked
bleak, with Doyle sidelined and the powerful Lions up 21-13.
But his coach and teammates said a locker room speech by Nordhoff
lineman and "inspirational leader" Micah Reed picked
them up for the second half.
"At halftime the mood was just down," said Nordhoff
quarterback Ryan Whitcomb, "but Micah did a great job bringing
us all back up. Micah's got the biggest heart. If it wasn't for
Micah, I don't know where we'd be."
Bigler recovered a nice onside kick by Marty Vogel to start the
third quarter, but it went for naught. The Lion defense forced
a missed 30-yard field goal attempt at the end of the drive.
Mark Richardson then caught three balls on the next Oaks Christian
drive, including a 24-yard touchdown to put the Lions up by 15.
That's when the Ranger coaching staff called upon their horse.
After a limited action week and just four opening half touches,
junior running back Will Strong dominated the ball in the fourth
Strong racked up 150 yards rushing in the last 16-plus minutes
of the game, scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns to hand
the Rangers the win, the league and the No. 1 ranking in Divison
The first came on a drive in which he ran the ball eight times
and caught a pass for 9 yards from Whitcomb. He finished with
a 3-yard power burst less than a minute into the fourth.
Then the Rangers went for two and got it. All action on the play
went to the right, and tight end Hayden Herbruck broke into the
left flat. Without a defender within 10 feet of him, Herbruck
caught Whitcomb's pass to pull the Rangers to within seven.
Then came what coach Cliff Farrar called the "turning point"
of the game. On third and 14 at the Oaks Christian 44, Reed powered
through the offensive line to record a sack and force a Lion
punt. It was one of two sacks he had on the night.
Still, it would take another defensive stand before Strong could
work his magic again. The Ranger pressure forced another punt
and when the snap was fumbled, Garrett Wyatt recovered to give
the Rangers the ball at the Lion 24.
After Bigler gained 8 yards on the first play, Strong found his
way in for a 16-yard score on the second. With Vogel's PAT, the
Rangers had tied the game with just 5:24 showing on the clock.
After forcing a three-and-out from the ensuing Lion drive, the
Rangers finished things with one last amazing run from Strong.
On third and three, with just two minutes left in the game, he
broke three tackles at the line of scrimmage, then outran the
Lion defense on a tweaked knee, going 46 yards for the winning
The Rangers will now need to avoid a letdown with just one game
left to play before the play-offs, a non-league matchup on Friday
with Arroyo Valley. The Lions, who dropped to No. 3 in the division,
will host No. 2 Oak Park.
Whitcomb completed 10 of 12 passes on the night for 78 yards.
Strong finished with 174 yards rushing, and Bigler added 68 yards
on eight carries.
Meanwhile, after the game, it was pure elation down on the field.
"This is the best feeling I've ever had," said Strong.
Echoed Reed, "I couldn't ask for more right now."
Coach Farrar told his guys in the post-game huddle that he's
had eight league titles and this one was as good as any of them.
"When it came cruchtime, these kids just stood up,"
said offensive coordinator Scott Titus. "It was a total
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
STRONG SCORED THREE fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead Nordhoff
back from a 15-point, third-quarter deficit to win the Tri-Valley
League title over previously unbeaten Oaks Christian.