After Ventura High running back Eric Turner scored two touchdowns and gained 119 yards in the first half of Thursday evening’s nonconference game at Larrabee Stadium, Newbury Park knew what it had to do after intermission: control the ball and contain Turner.
The Panthers controlled the ball all but four minutes of the second half.
So far, so good.
Turner had carried the ball only four times for 23 yards in the second half with thirty seconds remaining in the game.
A Panther victory in the making, right? Not quite.
Turner got one more chance. On a play Newbury Park contained him too well, he bolted 22 yards to the Panther nine-yard line. On the next play, with nine seconds remaining, Ventura quarterback Tim Garcia eluded a rusher and tossed a touchdown pass to Chad Lindsay to give the Cougars a 28-26 win.
On his final run, Turner was trapped as he attempted to circle left end. The 6-2, 200-pound senior reversed his field and scooted around the right side.
“We were beaten by two superior individual efforts,” said Newbury Park Coach Ken Cook.
The final Ventura scoring drive of 60 yards in 65 seconds spoiled a spirited comeback by Newbury Park. After trailing, 21-6, at the end of the first quarter, the Panthers clawed back to trail only 21-20 at halftime.
A colorful fireworks display and three streakers in sneakers as halftime entertainment could not upstage the momentum Newbury Park had mustered.
In the third quarter, the Panthers (1-1) marched 56 yards in 11 plays behind the running of Eric Craig and Sean Mcleod for the go-ahead touchdown.
Newbury Park, which rushed for 108 yards in the second half, had a great opportunity to pad its lead midway through the fourth quarter. After Newbury Park moved 43 yards to the Ventura nine-yard line, the Cougar defense stiffened, pushing the Panthers back to the 27 in two plays.
It was to be the Panthers’ last scoring opportunity.
Earlier, Newbury Park ran successfully behind the left side of the line: Larry Field and Sean O’Brien. Craig had 83 yards on 23 carries and McLeod had 66 yards on 17 carries.
After Turner romped for touchdowns of 67 and 6 yards before the game was five minutes old, Newbury Park came back with a scoring drive that consumed 61 yards and five minutes.
Garcia responded with a 32-yard scoring run in the final minute of the first quarter to give the Cougars a 21-6 lead. It appeared the Panther defense could not control Ventura’s speed.
Panther quarterback Jayson Merrill completed successive passes of 33 and 20 yards on the Panthers’ next possession, however, and Newbury Park answered with two scores before halftime.
After Newbury Park’s third-quarter score--a five-yard sprint by Craig--it was up to the defense to hold the tenuous 26-21 lead.
“We were in the proper defensive position,” Cook said. “We did everything right but make the tackles on those last two plays. Turner and Garcia are some talents.”
Cook took a deep breath, looked around at the crowd buzzing as it filed out the exits, and said, “Well, nobody left this one early.”
Ventura defeated Newbury Park, 29-14, last season and went on to the Coastal Conference championship game, which they lost to Camarillo.
This year’s team, which lost to Simi Valley, 17-6, last week, is not as strong. Only two starters returned and six sophomores are playing varsity.