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DAILY NEWS GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 2 West Ranch (5-0) vs. No. 3 Saugus (4-1) at College of the Canyons, Friday, 7 p.m.
It feels like a now-or-never moment for West Ranch.
The program checked off significant milestones last year when it beat Valencia for the first time ever en route to an outright second-place finish in the Foothill League, the Wildcats’ highest finish ever. West Ranch won four league games last year, that marked the most league wins in a season.
There’s one thing left to do that it’s never been done before: win a Foothill League title.
It can’t be wrapped up Friday night against Saugus, the two-time defending league champion, but the inside track to making program history will be lost if the Wildcats suffer defeat.
Saugus beat Valencia, the other contender for the league title, 28-21 last week, which creates a big opportunity for Saugus, too. If the Centurions come away with a victory this week, they’d control their own destiny with games against Hart, Castaic, Canyon and Golden Valley left on their schedule.
The pressure is on for both teams.
There is no question that West Ranch’s recent success has come with the addition of quarterback Ryan Staub, who transferred from Sierra Canyon as a junior and is now one of the best quarterbacks in the area with 21 touchdowns and no interceptions. The Colorado-bound senior has thrown for 1,190 yards in five games, including two quality wins over St. Francis and St. Paul.
The Wildcats’ defense has been impressive, too, led by linebacker Brady Van Bennekum, who has a team-high 41 tackles. He also has three interceptions, two of which he’s returned for touchdowns.
Saugus might not have “star power” like West Ranch, but it has the most notable victory of the two teams in 2022, a 16-14 win over Simi Valley. Holding Simi Valley’s high-powered offense to just 14 points was impressive and shows it’s capable of slowing down West Ranch’s offense, too.
Saugus quarterback Tj Cataldi against Simi Valley September 8, 2022.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)
Saugus quarterback TJ Cataldi has been outstanding considering he stepped into the position with no varsity experience. He’s thrown for 958 yards for 10 touchdowns in five games. He’s the team’s second-leading rusher at 112 yards, which could be sliced both ways: Cataldi is mobile or Saugus doesn’t run the ball very well. Jake Vigor is the team’s featured tailback and he’s tallied 350 yards and one touchdown.
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These two teams were unbeaten in league play when they faced off last season on Oct. 22, 2021. West Ranch had already beaten Valencia and was one big win away from getting its first Foothill League title. It was a flop. Saugus rolled to a 42-8 victory.
West Ranch is averaging 49.2 points per game this season. Saugus’ defense, led by Viger, Dario Sandoval and Vinny Gallagher, is allowing just 19.2 points per contest.
Something’s gotta give.
Prediction: West Ranch. If the Wildcats can score like they’re capable of, Saugus won’t be able to keep up. Saugus needs a low-scoring game to have a chance. I think Staub gets it done.