Oaks Christian gambles and wins Northern title
Displaying a gunslinger mentality, quarterback Richie Harrington led Westlake Village Oaks Christian to a stunning 29-28 victory over Westlake Village Westlake in a Northern Division championship game Friday night that will be long remembered as a high school football classic.
A 41-yard field-goal attempt by Alex Ball with one second left hit the right upright and was no good, enabling the Lions (12-2) to come away with a championship few thought was possible back in October, when Westlake routed the Lions, 31-12.
Harrington, stumbling in the second half but never losing his confidence, connected with Brett Medders for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left. Oaks Christian called two timeouts before deciding to go for a two-point conversion.
Blair Holliday ran it in out of the wildcat formation, giving the Lions the lead.
“We went for the two-point conversion because honestly, we didn’t think we could hold them in overtime,” Oaks Christian Coach Bill Redell said.
Quarterback Nick Isham was able to move Westlake (12-2) down to the Oaks Christian 24, keyed by a 25-yard reception by Tre’shon Wilson. But Oaks Christian’s luck held out.
Earlier this season, Harrington replaced an injured Trevor Gretzky and rallied Oaks Christian from a 19-0 deficit to beat Ventura St. Bonaventure, 33-32, in overtime. St. Bonaventure dropped several passes that could have been interceptions. And Oaks Christian had luck in winning a coin toss to be the No. 1 representative from the Marmonte League.
But there’s nothing lucky about Harrington’s never-give-up attitude. In the first half, he completed 13 of 15 for 197 yards and one interception. In the second half, he was intercepted twice but kept fighting back and delivering clutch passes on third down on Oaks Christian’s final 68-yard drive that began with 3:28 left. Overall, he completed 23 of 33 for 310 yards.
“He hangs in there and makes big plays,” Redell said. “Without him, we wouldn’t have won.”
Oaks Christian opened a 21-7 lead in the first half. Carlos Mendoza scored two touchdowns on runs of five and three yards. Harrington also scored on a one-yard run. Isham cut Westlake’s deficit to 21-14 at halftime with a 37-yard TD pass to Wilson.
Westlake needed to put more pressure on Harrington. Oaks Christian was the aggressor from the start. Players were running through tacklers, and defenders such as safety Brian Fifita went out of their way to hit Westlake players hard.
But Westlake made the adjustment, and Harrington suddenly went cold. Isham, who completed 22 of 32 passes for 267 yards, tied the game with an eight-yard TD pass to Justin Moore. And Tavior Mowry’s one-yard TD run on the first play of the fourth quarter put the Warriors on top, 28-21.
“We played our hearts out,” Oaks Christian receiver Jordan Payton said. “We left everything on the field.”
It took 10 years before these two schools less than a mile apart finally played each other in a football game, and it was because Oaks Christian was pushed into the Marmonte League. The fact they met for the Northern Division title provides a clue how passionate and determined the two programs are. But there also is a thawing in the relationship.
“I love it and the kids love it,” Westlake Coach Jim Benkert said of the electric championship atmosphere where more than 6,500 filled Oaks Christian’s stadium in an intimate setting that put the community of Westlake Village in the spotlight.
Two hours before the game, Oaks Christian’s Medders and others were offering handshakes and hugs to Westlake players getting dressed near the Oaks Christian locker room.
They go to the same restaurants, the same parties, the same malls, the same churches. It was friend against friend. Benkert was Oaks Christian Coach Bill Redell’s top assistant 24 years ago when Encino Crespi won a Southern Section championship. This was a game where everyone knew everyone, and that sometimes produces the most intense and memorable of circumstances.
And this one did just that.