The Thousand Oaks High football team has not often needed to depend on last-minute heroics this season. When it does, it makes the Lancers' coach nervous.
"I've been coaching too long and seen too many things to be confident when a kid goes out there with the game on the line," said Thousand Oaks Coach Tom Richards.
So Richards watched with apprehension when junior Sean Cheevers walked on the field with his kicking tee to attempt a 34-yard field goal with 2:28 left in the game against Channel Islands Friday night at Hueneme High.
Richards' grimace turned to an wide grin, though, when Cheevers' kick was good, and gave the Lancers a 16-14 win over the Raiders. The victory put Thousand Oaks in position to win its second straight Marmonte League championship.
With games against Simi Valley next week and Camarillo the week after, the Lancers (4-0, 7-1 overall) perhaps have passed their toughest test. Channel Islands (2-1-1, 5-2-1 overall) has the best offensive line in the league and two crack running backs, both of whom rushed for more than 100 yards Friday.
But Thousand Oaks has a pair of good running backs, too, and both figured heavily in the Lancers' biggest win this season.
Marc Monestime and Mike Moore, both juniors, rushed for 124 yards and 83 yards, respectively, to offset the performances of Channel Islands' Ernie Tapua (150 yards) and John Johnson (105).
Thousand Oaks was forced to punt on its first possession and did the same to the Raiders on their first. The Lancers got the ball back and on 48 yards rushing by Monestime, the Lancers marched to the Channel Islands 46. Quarterback Robb McKinnon, who started his first game since coming back from an injured shoulder, then hit Jason Schlimgen for a 46-yard touchdown pass and Cheevers hit the extra point to give the Lancers a 7-0 lead.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Raiders needed only five plays to score. Johnson ran 33 yards around the Lancer defense for a score to bring Channel Islands to within one. Tapua was unable to reach the end zone on the conversion attempt.
Thousand Oaks took a 13-6 lead when Moore, behind an excellent block by Lancer tackle Mike Yasenchok, dashed 51 yards for a touchdown. The Lancers fumbled the snap on the extra point attempt and went into the locker room at halftime with a 13-6 lead.
Things looked bleak for Thousand Oaks after Tapua dove in from two yards out to score, capping a 13-play, 79-yard drive for Channel islands with just seven minutes left. Tapua scored the two-point conversion and Channel islands led, 14-13.
With time running out, McKinnon took the Lancers 48 yards in 10 plays. Facing a fourth-and-eight on the Raider 17, Richards sent the junior placekicker Cheevers in to attempt the game-winning field goal.
"I was pretty nervous," Cheevers said. Asked what it meant to him, Cheevers said, "Well, this is my first year on varsity so this was pretty big."
Said Monestime: "I was scared when they took the lead but we were able to move the ball down there luckily. Channel Islands deserves a lot of credit. But we knew Sean was going to make it. We were all nervous but the whole team knew he was going to make it."
Channel Islands gave the Lancers their toughest game perhaps since Thousand Oaks lost to Canyon earlier this season in a nonleague game.
"This team handled us physically better than any team we have seen all year," Richards said. "Our offensive line, I think, played well but when they have Scott Matautia out there on every play it's tough. That kid plays as well and as hard as any kid could possibly play. Real smash-mouth football."
Matautia, a 6-4, 255-pound senior, is considered the top defensive prospect in the league.
"They all hit hard, every one of them is tough," Monestime said.
Despite his success, Richards isn't ordering championship patches.