As is the practice of many football coaches, Westlake High’s Jim Benkert downplayed his team’s talent in the days leading to the first game.
His rationale was that lofty public predictions would hinder a squad no matter how improved it was over last season’s 3-7 group.
After an exciting 21-14 nonleague victory over area-power Buena on Saturday night at Thousand Oaks High, Benkert no longer can cloak his team.
Quarterback Kevin Crook capped an outstanding performance when he gave the Warriors the lead for good on a one-yard rollout with 5 minutes 22 seconds remaining in the final quarter. Kicker Scott Morris’ point-after closed the scoring.
“They’re definitely better,” Buena Coach Rick Scott said. “I don’t think they pushed us around tonight, but we have to get better.”
Buena had two possessions after Westlake’s final touchdown, but the Bulldogs were forced to punt on the first possession and receiver-defensive back Billy Miller intercepted a pass by Buena quarterback Chris Carr at the Buena 18-yard line to seal the victory with 1:50 left. Crook completed 12 of 16 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“This feels great,” said an exuberant Miller, who also caught 10 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. “Kevin came out and made a lot of great throws and we all got it done.”
Buena defeated Westlake, 42-30, in the teams’ opener last year. In that game, standout Buena running back George Keiaho set a Ventura County rushing record, rolling up 415 yards in 29 carries.
Keiaho again carried 29 times, gaining 137 yards with two touchdowns. However, Westlake recovered two Keiaho fumbles, the final of which set up the winning score.
“They are a good team, but we had some real mental mistakes,” Keiaho said. “And I’ve got to do a better job (of) holding on to the ball.”
The Bulldogs and Warriors entered the final 12 minutes with the score tied 14-14. Westlake evened the score with 3:02 left in the third quarter on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Crook to Miller and Morris’ point-after.
Controlling the clock with their powerful ground game, the Bulldogs held a 14-7 halftime advantage. Keiaho, expectedly, was the catalyst, gaining 108 yards and scoring two touchdowns in 19 carries.
Buena opened the scoring in the first quarter on Keiaho’s three-yard touchdown run that capped an eight-play, 55-yard drive after recovery of Crook’s fumble in the game’s opening series.
After an exchange of possessions, Crook and Miller combined on an electrifying 87-yard touchdown pass. Miller caught the ball at Westlake’s 30, spun out of a tackle an outraced the Buena defense down the right sideline to the end zone. Morris’ kick gave the Warriors their only lead of the first half, 7-6.
Buena regained the lead with 1:57 remaining on Keiaho’s six-yard touchdown run. The Warriors were penalized twice on successive plays for a total of 20 yards during the drive, moving the ball down to their own eight-yard line.
Keiaho showed his considerable leg strength on the touchdown run. He was hit at the four and dragged a defender with him the rest of the way. Carr closed the half’s scoring, running for a two-point conversion.