George Contreras stood precariously at the 50-yard line before the Westlake High's game against Royal on Thursday night.
Peering out from under an orange hood and standing in four inches of mud, the Westlake coach tried to be cheerful as a steady downpour added to the already saturated field at Thousand Oaks High.
"This is Warrior weather," Contreras exclaimed while forcing a smile that actually was closer to a grimace. "We love this. This is eastern football."
Whatever it was, it wasn't Royal weather. Westlake took advantage of six Highlander turnovers, four in the first half, to defeat Royal, 31-14, in a Marmonte League game.
Westlake remains in first place with a 4-0 league record. The Warriors are 5-2 overall. Royal fell to 0-3 in league play with its fifth straight loss, and is 1-5-1 overall.
Eastern football is actually the forte of both teams, as each employs the Delaware Wing T offense. The weather, however, slowed both offenses considerably. Contreras wasn't complaining by the time the game was over, however, by then sporting an unmistakable winning smile.
"The wing T comes from Delaware, and the sun doesn't shine too much this time of year in Delaware," he said.
The Warriors scored the first 31 points. Three plays into the game, Warrior running back Keith Burke ran 59 yards down the left sideline for a 6-0 lead. The conversion try, as would be the case for most of the game, was no good when the snap was high.
Royal then fumbled on the first play of three consecutive possessions, losing two. The second turnover came on the Highlanders' nine-yard line, and four plays later fullback Noel Baker scored from two yards out to give Westlake a 12-0 lead with 3:51 left in the first quarter.
The Warriors scored again on their next possession as Bob Grandpre hit receiver Garret Messner with an 18-yard scoring pass. It was Grandpre's only completion of the game. Westlake led, 18-0, with 10:32 remaining in the first half.
Noel scored once more, this time capping a 52-yard drive with a three-yard run just before halftime to give Westlake a 25-0 lead. The key play came on fourth and 19 from the Warriors' 43. Punter Chris Edwards fumbled the snap, scooped up the ball and raced 38 yards for a first down. Baker scored six plays later to give Westlake its high-water mark--a 31-0 lead. Royal managed 24 yards in offense in the first half, 121 for the game. The Warriors didn't fare much better, gaining 196 total yards. Westlake fumbled three times and lost one.
"We tried to play the field-position game," Contreras said. "And we got some breaks that we were able to convert. That's so important, and on a field like this, it's magnified tenfold."
Both of Royal's scores came in the fourth quarter--the first on a 62-yard, 13-play drive.
The final 17 yards were crossed on a pass to Eric Anhalt from quarterback Chris Sinsheimer with 11:43 left. Sinsheimer completed 2 of 5 passes for 30 yards.
Royal running back Chad Sourbeer, who entered the game with 542 yards rushing, gained 45 on 12 carries, including a 13-yard touchdown run with 1:59 left.
Westlake's Burke was the game-high rusher with 71 yards on five carries.
Westlake, which leads Channel Islands by a full game in the league standings, is the only Marmonte League team not to make the playoffs in the past four years.
"It's a win, and that's the important thing," Contreras said. "They don't give style points. It's not swimming."
Maybe not, but it was close.