Despite strong play NHS watches Eagles fly away with victory

Mike Miller, Ojai Valley News sports editor

Facing its toughest test of the season, the Nordhoff High School (NHS) football team responded by playing some of its best football of the season. It wasn’t enough, however, as the Rangers fell to the Oak Park Eagles, 22-18. The loss was the first of the season for the Rangers who are now 5-1 on the year.

Both defenses hit the field ready to play and set the tone early in the game. The first quarter was littered with three-and-out series and punts.

For Nordhoff, senior Ethane Sunder led the way early and had a key third-down sack to stop an Oak Park drive. Sophomore Korey Stevens also made some key defensive plays early in the game.

On the last play of the first quarter, the Eagles went to the air and connected for a big gain to get deep into Nordhoff territory. However, the Ranger defense started the second quarter by forcing a fumble and junior Brayden Rogers was there for the recovery. 

Later in the second quarter, NHS forced another turnover when junior Eduardo Perez intercepted an Oak Park pass. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they were unable to capitalize on the takeaway and were forced to punt. 

The tide started to shift late in the second quarter when Oak Park was driving and Sunder got into the action with  a picture-perfect hit on an Oak Park player. The officials flagged him for unnecessary roughness. Sunder’s teammates showed their displeasure over the call and an additional 15-yard penalty was assessed.

With their newfound field position, the Eagles finally ended the scoreless tie when quarterback Cole McCreary threw to Zach Kariya who scored from 18 yards out. Oak Park converted a two-point attempt and took an 8-0 lead into the locker room. 

During the halftime celebration, fans were treated to a fireworks show, part of Oak Park’s homecoming celebration. The halftime show would not be the only fireworks on display for the fans in attendance as the two teams battled in the second half.

The Eagles managed to extend their lead to 16-0 in the third quarter when McCreary went deep to senior Michael Hewitt. 

Late in the third quarter, the Rangers finally got things going on offense thanks to big runs by Tannor Garnsey and Rogers.

From there, quarterback Parker Johnsen handed the ball to Rogers who outraced the Oak Park defense to the corner of the end zone and dove for the pylon. The senior managed to cross the goal line making the score 16-6 after the two-point conversion failed. 

Oak Park answered back to start the fourth quarter when McCreary threw his third touchdown of the game. Trailing 22-6, the Rangers went back to the hot hand in Rogers and he delivered with a 33-yard score thanks to great blocking up front. Wide out Jesse Kuehn sealed the edge with a huge block allowing Rogers to find the end zone for the second time in the game. 

In the final period, the Rangers had Oak Park on their heels and were winning the battle along the line of scrimmage and NHS clearly had momentum down the stretch. With approximately seven minutes to play in the game, Kuehn brought the Nordhoff fans to their feet with an unbelievable catch along the sideline that was good for 40-yards. 

After Kuehn’s catch, Rogers closed the gap to 22-18 when he scored his third touchdown of the game, this time from 16 yards out. 

In the final minutes of the game, the Eagles were clinging to a narrow four-point lead. Facing a key third down situation, McCreary was sacked by Nordhoff’s Nick Cansler and the Rangers were back in business as they looked to win the game on the final drive.

Johnsen once again dialed up Kuehn’s number and the senior snagged a pass that was good for a key 35-yard gain. Rogers converted a third-and-six situation with a solid run and Oak Park committed a personal foul improving Nordhoff’s field position.

With less than a minute to go in the game, Johnsen took a couple of shots at the end zone but could not connect with his receivers for what would have been a game-winning touchdown.  

After turning the ball over on downs, a relieved Oak Park team took a knee and ran out the clock, escaping with a narrow 22-18 victory. 

“This was a fun game, but we need to eliminate the mistakes,” said NHS head coach Lance Wiggins. “We have to get better and use this experience to motivate us the rest of the way. We had what we wanted there in the end which was our best athlete (Kuehn) on their best athlete. We just didn’t complete the pass.” 

Rogers enjoyed his most productive game as a Ranger, carrying the ball 27 times for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Kuehn also had a huge night with six catches for 160 yards. 

Next up for the Rangers will be an Oct. 13 road game against St. Margaret’s (5-2). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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