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WESTLAKE — Simi Valley football coach Jim Benkert stood near the 50-yard line before Friday night’s game against Westlake, away from his team, observing the Warriors.
“I know their players inside and out,” Benkert said.
Beyond the field, he knows the stadium inside and out, right down to the seats in the bleachers that were designated specifically for his mom, as well as the Marmonte League as a whole.
After all, he did spend 26 seasons as a coach at Westlake, winning CIF and state titles in 1999 and 2003. He spent two seasons at Oaks Christian after that before heading to Simi Valley and lifting a previously lackluster program to back-to-back Canyon League titles in 2020 and 2021.
Most of Benkert’s coaching staff has followed him to each of the schools he’s coached at – one of his assistants even currently teaches at Westlake.
An intense Marmonte League-opening matchup between Westlake and Simi Valley, new to the league this season, squashed any lingering feelings of nostalgia. It took the Pioneers a full four quarters plus two overtimes to come out with a 21-20 win.
“I told my wife when left that it was going to go down to the wire,” Benkert said, “and I was right.”
Westlake scores on a pass from Dominic Hunt to Cole Janowicz and goes for two points after, but the Warriors are denied. Simi wins, 21-20 in double overtime. pic.twitter.com/uO7FBv7viA
— Haley Sawyer (@haleymsawyer) October 1, 2022
After scoreless third and fourth quarters, Westlake was driving from the 10-yard line when Simi Valley’s Andrew Rezinas intercepted Warriors quarterback Dominic Hunt. The Pioneers had the ball on the 25, but Steele Pizzella was picked off by Alberto Ayon.
Caleb Alvary broke through Westlake’s stalwart defense on a 13-yard touchdown run in double overtime, jumping and reaching to get the ball over the line.
“What I saw was just a solid sideline and a pylon,” Alvary said. “I was like, gotta score. This is the last play of the game. I gotta score, gotta score.”
Westlake scored in double-overtime as well, on a pass from Hunt to Cole Janowicz. The Warriors went for two points after, but the Pioneers knocked down a pass on the 1-yard line to pull away with the win.
It was a statement Marmonte League win for Simi Valley, and another unforgettable game in Westlake’s stadium for Benkert.
“I’ve never played in a double overtime game that we won on the 1-yard line,” Benkert. who has coached for 34 years, said. “That’s never happened before.”
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