2017-09-01 / Sports

Football returns to valley

FOOTBALL /// Royal, Simi Valley, Grace Brethren Highlanders open season with satisfying comeback victory at Buena; Pioneers, Lancers endure rockier starts
By Jonathan Andrade


LOCKED IN—Royal wide receiver Chris Hulin catches a pass at practice on Aug. 29. Hulin, a converted quarterback, caught two touchdown passes from QB Ezekiel Savage last weekend in the season opener. LOCKED IN—Royal wide receiver Chris Hulin catches a pass at practice on Aug. 29. Hulin, a converted quarterback, caught two touchdown passes from QB Ezekiel Savage last weekend in the season opener. The long-awaited return of prep football brought highs and lows for the teams that call Simi Valley home.

Royal High dug itself out of an early hole to pull off a 28-22 comeback victory against Buena on Aug. 25. Grace Brethren snuck away with a 7-0 victory against Antelope Valley. Simi Valley suffered a 55-7 shellacking at the hands of West Ranch.

“We learned a lot,” said Dameon Porter, Simi Valley’s first-year head coach. “I think we were all disappointed after the game, but it’s what you do with that disappointment. How do we learn from this and move on to get ready for our next opponent.”

ROYAL HIGHLANDERS


KEEP IT 100—Royal High quarterback Ezekiel Savage threw four touchdown passes in the Aug. 25 season-opening win at Buena. 
Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers KEEP IT 100—Royal High quarterback Ezekiel Savage threw four touchdown passes in the Aug. 25 season-opening win at Buena. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers The Highlanders didn’t get into the win column until the seventh game of the 2016 season.

Royal wasted no time snagging its first victory this fall while erasing an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Ezekiel Savage, a junior quarterback, orchestrated the comeback, connecting on 12 of 20 passes and four touchdowns on the night. The strong finish made up for a shaky start, which included two interceptions.

“This team kept it together,” second-year head coach Matthew Lewis said. “Facing adversity the right way kept them from digging themselves into a hole.”

Colin Mitchell, a junior, led Royal receivers with five receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a pivotal two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.


GREAT TIMING—Grace Brethren’s Jauqine Vukobradovich intercepts a pass against Oak Park last season. GREAT TIMING—Grace Brethren’s Jauqine Vukobradovich intercepts a pass against Oak Park last season. Chris Hulin, a senior receiver, snagged a pair of touchdown passes.

Gabriel Landless, a sophomore running back, led the ground attack with 14 rushes for 71 yards.

Lewis said the Highlanders can’t start slow during tonight’s home opener against Golden Valley (1-0). Kickoff has been moved to 7:30 p.m. due to the heat.

“We’re going against a faster team that makes big plays,” the coach said. “We’re going to have to improve our game significantly to be able to win. . . . I would consider us the underdog.”

SIMI VALLEY PIONEERS

The Pioneers have put a forgettable opener in the rearview mirror. They don’t have a choice.

First-year head coach Dameon Porter said the fumbles, interceptions and failed assignments that marred the Pioneers in the season opening setback must be fixed.

“We’re just not good enough to overcome self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “We’re going to try to clean up all the mistakes on the offensive and defensive side. Those are things that we can control.”

Porter said he was pleased with his team’s demeanor after the loss.

“We came in Saturday morning and pointed out the mistakes on film,” he said. “The good thing was the kids were open to being coached up and learning from those mistakes.”

While Porter admitted there weren’t many bright spots in the opener, he said Sean Weber, a junior linebacker who led Simi Valley with seven tackles, and Ian Roca, a junior who fought for 25 yards on 12 carries, played well.

Fans can expect to see senior quarterback Billy Martin back under center against Rio Mesa (1-0) tonight despite a two-interception performance against West Ranch. Martin connected on 14 of 25 passes for 114 yards.

Porter’s keeping a positive outlook heading into tonight’s road game at Rio Mesa, which beat Camarillo 35-20 in its opener. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

“I don’t think last week is indicative of who we are as a team,” Porter said. “When you leave a game like that, you oftentimes have a bad taste in your mouth. The only way to get it out is to get out there and lace them up again.”

GRACE BRETHREN LANCERS

Grace Brethren’s defense is strong, but few pundits could have predicted what unfolded during the season opener.

The Lancer offense, led by freshman quarterback Mikey Zele, was stymied by Antelope Valley’s defense. Sophomore cornerback Brandon Jones, a transfer from Hawkins, returned an interception for a touchdown, the only scoring the Lancers needed in a 7-0 slugfest.

“I look at that game like an offensive loss, but we were fortunate enough to get out with a team win,” head coach Josh Henderson said.

Jauqine Vukobradovich, a senior safety, snagged a crucial interception in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

Junior defensive tackle Sebastian

Vega chipped in five tackles and two sacks, while Dassani Freeman, a senior defensive end, compiled four tackles and one sack. Junior linebacker Stanley Ta’ufo’ou also recorded a sack.

Josh Henderson, a sophomore linebacker and the coach’s son, led the defense with 10 tackles. Justin Skidmore, a junior linebacker, who also runs cross country, tacked on nine tackles.

Zele struggled in his first varsity start, failing to complete any of his five pass attempts. Grace Brethren had 42 rushing attempts.

The head coach said he expects to dial up more pass plays when the Lancers play host to Granada Hills (0-1) at 7:30 tonight at Moorpark College.

“We have to be productive on offense,” Henderson said. “We need to see a very strong improvement.”

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