Scott Morris went to work with a parched throat and trembling hands. Good thing all he needed was his right leg.
Morris, Westlake High's senior kicker, connected on a 45-yard field goal with four seconds to play against Simi Valley, giving the Warriors a 30-29 victory in a Marmonte League opener Friday. Morris' game-winner was his third field goal of the game. He kicked another 45-yarder and one from 50 yards.
The field goals were especially gratifying for Morris because they were the first Westlake attempted this season.
"That (final) one was more of a relief than anything," Morris said. "It felt like it was up in the air for so long, I thought it was never going to come down.
"When we saw it was good, my teammates hit me from every which way. That was easily the biggest kick and the biggest thrill I've ever had in football."
Down But Not Out
Simi Valley quarterback Jeremie Watkins was battered and bruised--but never out.
Westlake sacked Watkins six times and chased him all night. Watkins, however, showed his mettle in the face of the Warriors' fierce pass rush, teaming with Jevon Markarian on an 11-yard touchdown pass to give Simi Valley a 29-27 lead with 48 seconds remaining.
Watkins completed 19 of 40 passes for 275 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. Watkins is the area's third-leading passer with 1,144 yards. He also has 11 touchdowns, with six interceptions.
"It felt like I was going to the ground every single play," Watkins said. "But no matter how hard you get hit, no matter how many times, you have to get back up and go. That's the game."
Westlake Coach Jim Benkert is impressed with Watkins' toughness.
"We knocked him down 29 times and he came back and burned us," Benkert said. "He took some big shots from big people and stayed in there. That's what you want to see."
Chris Hill's eyes opened wide with excitement when he saw the ball moving toward him. Adrenaline took care of the rest.
The Newbury Park junior defensive lineman grabbed a Camarillo fumble in mid-air and outraced pursuers 70 yards for a touchdown during the Panthers' 41-8 Marmonte victory. It was Hill's first touchdown at any level.
"It was probably the greatest thing that has ever happened to me in football," he said. "Everything was in slow motion. I caught the ball and then I thought, 'No one is going to catch me.' "
Despite displaying some breakaway speed, Hill (5-10, 165) is not expecting a position change.
"I don't think Coach (George) Hurley is going to put me with the defensive backs," Hill said. "Besides, I like hitting big guys too much."
Not Clowning Around
As the saying goes, Matt Rutter had big shoes to fill Friday night. Lots of them, in fact.
Rutter, Reseda's third-string quarterback, was forced into the limelight through a strange combination of events in a key game against unbeaten El Camino Real. He was inserted as the long snapper in crunch time as Reseda rallied for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to win, 15-14.
Rutter, who snapped the ball for the winning point-after kick with 3:55 to play, was the fourth center used by Reseda.
When starting center Eddie Rodriguez was injured in the second half, Sebastian Zepeda was inserted to handle snaps in under-center situations. Yet Reseda trailed, 14-0, so Demian Murray was called upon when Reseda moved into shotgun formation. Rutter was inserted for the point-after snaps.
"I asked him beforehand if he'd ever done it," said Coach Joel Schaeffer, who believes quarterbacks make good centers because snapping underhand and throwing are comparable motions. "But I don't know why I asked. It was a premonition or something."
Rutter told the coach he had long-snapped occasionally as a youth-league player. One major hurdle remained, though.
The seldom-used Rutter forgot his spikes and all Schaeffer had as a back-up was a pair of size-16 cleats. The 5-foot-9, 145-pound Rutter looked like a Clydesdale, but accepted the assignment.
"It was very courageous," Schaeffer said. "He looked like a clown. All he needed was balloons."
Kevin Perryman turned out to be the pick of the Chatsworth litter. Emphasis on the pick. Not long ago, though, he was the runt.
"He started to grow," Coach Myron Gibford said. "He was a pipsqueak, a skinny little runt, as a 10th-grader."
Perryman, now a senior defensive back, played for the B team the past two seasons. But growth spurts are a strange and unpredictable thing: Perryman stands 6-foot-2, weighs 170 pounds and leads area City players with five interceptions.
Let's see, there's tailback Jerry Brown, the City 3-A player of the year as a sophomore. There's linebacker DaShon Polk, an All-City pick. Ditto tight end Dion Gaston. At receiver, there's Andre DeSaussure, the City track champion at 100, 200 and 400 meters.
So it stands to reason that Taft's best player is . . . Mike Ferguson?
"He can catch, he can throw, he can kick, he can block and he can tackle," Taft Coach Troy Starr said. "We have lots of great players, but overall, he's our best guy--and there's no doubt about it."
Ferguson, Taft's quarterback, practically stole the show in Friday night's 24-20 victory over Kennedy, perhaps its toughest league foe.
Ferguson, who also plays cornerback, intercepted a pass in the end zone while covering Kennedy receiver Shaun Dudra. And he led Taft on an 80-yard scoring drive after Kennedy rallied from a 17-0 deficit to take a 20-17 lead.
Ferguson's 29-yard scoring pass to Dayon Shaw with 2:17 to play was the game-winner. He completed seven of 12 passes for 140 yards and had two passes dropped.
Ferguson was the Taft kicker last season and scored a team-high 119 points, which included 15 rushing touchdowns.
And speaking of numbers, Ferguson recently scored 1,260 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test in his first attempt.
Best all-around player and the smartest guy on the field? "I guarantee he's smarter than me," Starr said.
How spectacular was Taft receiver Dayon Shaw's game-winning grab in the final moments of the victory over Kennedy? To the naked eye, it appeared to be a near-miracle. On videotape, it looked even better.
Starr saw it live, of course. Shaw pulled down the ball with an acrobatic, one-armed grab as he fell on his back at the goal line. Kennedy's secondary definitely had him well-covered.
"I was getting ready to call the next play," Starr said. "When I saw it get tipped twice, and that both guys were lying on the ground, I figured, 'No way.' "
Starr later eyeballed the play on tape and realized what a brilliant catch Shaw had made.
"Even the ref got excited," Starr said. "When he called it a touchdown, he jumped a foot off the ground."
Taft sophomore Antwan Simpson made clutch plays aplenty Friday night. That is, the ball was often right in his clutches. Simpson, a 15-year-old sophomore, clinched the victory over Kennedy with an interception at the Taft 10-yard line with 1:05 to play.
Earlier, in Kennedy's first series, he ripped the ball from the grasp of stunned Kennedy receiver Antwane Smith, another sophomore, and bolted 50 yards for what goes in the books as a fumble return. The ball never touched the ground.
"Coach always tells us to strip (the ball)," Simpson said. "When you know somebody else has him wrapped up, go for the ball."
Simpson was near the ball all night. Earlier, he blocked a Kennedy point-after attempt, which forced the Golden Cougars to go for a touchdown on their final drive.
DEL REY LEAGUE
The Best Laid Plans. . .
Crespi has a play called Power I Power that is designed to pick up a few yards in tough situations, but the Celts must be doing something wrong.
They ran it on a fourth-and-one in the final minutes against Chaminade and Shaun Williams ran 58 yards for a touchdown. They ran it again last week against Notre Dame, and Williams ran 81 yards for a touchdown.
"It's a play designed to gain three yards," Coach Tim Lins said. "It's been quite good."
Around the Leagues. . .
* Simi Valley junior kicker Tim Wolleck booted a school-record 55-yard field goal against Westlake.
* Newbury Park senior receiver Leodes Van Buren needs nine receptions and 55 yards to break J.K. McKay's Southern Section records of 207 and 3,389.
* Montclair Prep, an independent, has won 23 consecutive games dating to a 25-14 defeat by Santa Paula in 1991, the year the Mounties were banned from the playoffs. The Mounties are 35-4 in the 1990s and have won two Southern Section titles.
* After four games, North Hollywood quarterbacks have eclipsed last season's total passing yardage. Alvaro Castillo (598 yards, seven touchdowns) and Patrick Fields (214 yards, three touchdowns) are pacing a passing game that is averaging 203 yards a game--best among area City teams.
* Canoga Park has scored six touchdowns--each by a different player.
* North Hollywood has nine interceptions by seven defenders.
* No Crespi player other than Shaun Williams has taken a handoff in the past two games. In those games, both Crespi victories, Williams has gained 361 yards in 54 carries. The only other plays Crespi has run are 23 passes and 12 runs by quarterback Dave Lins.
* Granada Hills has lost five consecutive games for the first time in the nine-year tenure of co-coaches Darryl Stroh and Tom Harp. The Highlanders lost to Marshall in the first round of the City 4-A playoffs last season and have dropped their first four games of 1993.
* Powerful Hart was stymied by Alemany until defensive lineman Marty Crowder recovered a fumble deep in Alemany territory, leading to Hart's first touchdown in a 14-7 victory.
* Air Mike, Ground Mike: Hart quarterback Mike Kocicka has passed for 850 yards and seven touchdowns, is second on the team with 42 carries and leads the Indians with four rushing touchdowns.
* Best game for a losing quarterback: Hoover's Alan Lau completed 25 of 38 passes for 296 yards with no interceptions and three touchdowns in the Tornadoes' 45-29 loss to Temple City.
* Reseda's 4-0 start isn't exactly head-turning news in terms of opening streaks. Reseda won its first eight in 1988.
Staff writers Steve Elling, Jeff Fletcher, Dana Haddad, Paige A. Leech and Jason H. Reid contributed to this notebook.
The Times Top 10
Rankings of Valley-area high schools by sportswriters of The Times: Rank: 1 Prev.: 1 Team: Newbury Park League: Marmonte W-L: 4-0 Last week: Def. Camarillo, 41-8 This week: Fri. at Channel Islands
*Rank: 2 Prev.: 2 Team: Taft League: North Valley W-L: 4-0 Last week: Def. Kennedy, 24-20 This week: Fri. vs. Reseda
*Rank: 3 Prev.: 3 Team: Antelope Valley League: Golden W-L: 3-1 Last week: Def. Loyola, 15-14 This week: Fri. at Muir
*Rank: 4 Prev.: 5 Team: Hart League: Foothill W-L: 4-0 Last week: Def. Alemany, 14-7 This week: Fri. vs. Eisenhower
*Rank: 5 Prev.: 8 Team: Quartz Hill League: Golden W-L: 4-0 Last week: Def. Canyon, 25-14 This week: Fri. vs. Apple Valley
*Rank: 6 Prev.: 4 Team: Canyon League: Foothill W-L: 3-1 Last week: Lost to Quartz Hill, 25-14 This week: Fri. vs. Alemany
*Rank: 7 Prev.: 9 Team: Westlake League: Marmonte W-L: 3-1 Last week: Def. Simi Valley, 30-29 This week: Fri. vs. Thousand Oaks
*Rank: 8 Prev.: 10 Team: Saugus League: Foothill W-L: 3-1 Last week: Def. Righetti, 28-17 This week: Fri. at Littlerock
*Rank: 9 Prev.: NR Team: Reseda League: West Valley W-L: 4-0 Last week: Def. El Camino Real, 15-14 This week: Fri. at Taft
*Rank: 10 Prev.: 6 Team: El Camino Real League: North Valley W-L: 3-1 Last week: Lost to Reseda, 15-14 This week: Fri. at Cleveland