When push came to shove, Canyon High beat Thousand Oaks at its own game Friday night, bullying the vaunted Lancer defense 80 yards for a clinching touchdown in the game's final four minutes.
The Cowboys, who usually rely on the velvet touch of quarterback Ken Sollom, adopted the Lancers' punishing style and slammed away with a 20-9 victory in the Coastal Conference quarterfinal at Thousand Oaks High. Canyon (11-1) advances to next week's semifinals, playing Muir, a 14-0 winner over Palmdale on Friday.
Leading just 14-9 with four minutes to go, Canyon used seven plays--five were runs between the tackles by Lance Cross and Paul Chadwell--to score. After Sollom hit Ken Holsenbeck with a 25-yard pass to advance the ball past midfield, Chadwell gained five and four yards on successive carries. Cross broke off a 25-yard run and Chadwell followed with an 18-yard gallop over center.
Sollom then plunged over from the one to give Canyon an 11-point lead with less than a minute left.
"Our line got fired up on that last drive," Cross said. "Thousand Oaks hits hard. They put their helmets in there. We had to move the ball that last time and the line came through."
Injury riddled and a purported weak link in Canyon's high-powered offense, the line toughened when the Cowboys needed it most.
Against the toughest defense they faced all season, they responded with their finest performance. From tackle to tackle they are: Matt Byer, Shea Danels, Dom Spainhower, Rick McKeon and Sean Wheeler.
Which is all too typical of Canyon. This was the Cowboys 14th straight playoff victory, their 49th win in their last 50 games and ninth straight win over Thousand Oaks, which finished its season at 10-2.
"We can play hardball when we have to," Coach Harry Welch said. "We've done that before against Thousand Oaks."
The guys carrying the ball behind that line are not brawny bruisers. Cross and Chadwell are more like gnarly gnats who cause opposing players to gnash their teeth in frustration.
Cross (5-7, 160 pounds) finished with 104 yards on 19 carries and Chadwell (5-7, 155) had 68 yards on 8 carries. Welch had his own description.
"Those little guys are gems," Welch said. "Two polished gems."
Until Canyon's last drive, Thousand Oaks was only one big play away from victory. When quarterback Robb McKinnon was injured earlier this season, the Lancer offense was primarily M&M--Marc Monestime and Mike Moore. With McKinnon, they are 3M. At times Friday, they ran with corporate-like efficiency.
Thousand Oaks closed a 14-3 halftime deficit to 14-9 by driving 50 yards on 12 plays in the third quarter for a touchdown. Monestime, who had 88 yards on 18 carries, and Moore, who had 56 yards on 11, took turns carrying on the scoring march.
The Canyon defense forced the Lancers to use eight plays to score from the five. Finally, McKinnon hit Lance Alverson with a touchdown pass from the two on fourth down.
Sollom passed less than usual, but was marvelously efficient when he did. The 6-3 senior, who attracted recruiters from UCLA and BYU to the game, was 10 for 15 for 185 yards.
Thousand Oaks' linebackers blitzed like angry bulls, and Sollom, rather than fleeing the pocket, held his ground with the moxie of a matador. A single step left. Ole . A single step right. Ole .
An interception by linebacker Andy Boron near midfield set up Canyon's second touchdown. The Cowboys went 44 yards on eight plays and Cross--who had 28 yards on the drive and 60 in the first half--scored from the one. Sollom lofted a pass to Chad Zeigler in the corner of the end zone for a two-point conversion to give Canyon a 14-3 halftime lead.
Thousand Oaks followed Canyon's score by moving 66 yards on 11 plays, but Moore fumbled at the Cowboy 16 and linebacker Mike DeMeo recovered for Canyon.
A fake punt by Canyon from its own 25 with 30 seconds left in the half was successful when Sollom--the punter--hit Zeigler for 29 yards. A long pass on the last play of the half was intercepted by cornerback Mike Regan, however.
Thousand Oaks took a 3-0 lead on a 42-yard field goal by Sean Cheevers, his eighth of the season--after moving 40 yards. Monestime, who gained 62 yards on 10 first-half carries, was the chief weapon for the Lancers.
Canyon scored on its ensuing possession when a 15-yard run by Cross was followed by a Sollom-to-Zeigler connection of 48 yards. Canyon led, 6-3.
"I was a secondary receiver and just hoped Ken would see me open," said Zeigler, who had four catches for 105 yards in the game.