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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Granada Hills Flattened

City football: Westchester ends top-seeded Granada Hills' hopes for an undefeated season, rallying in the second half to post an upset victory.

November 26, 1998|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GRANADA HILLS — Forget the motivational talks from its veteran coaches, the letter of inspiration from John Elway, the cheering of its fans. Nothing was going to save Granada Hills High's unbeaten football season Wednesday night except some good old-fashion tackling. And it didn't happen.

Running the ball again and again with its punishing wishbone attack, Westchester rallied with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to upset the top-seeded Highlanders, 26-21, in a City Championship quarterfinal at Granada Hills.

The Comets (10-2) closed to within a point, 21-20, with 4:14 left on a three-yard touchdown run by Charles Drake. A two-point conversion attempt failed.

Granada Hills needed one first down to run out the clock. But quarterback Jason Winn was dragged down for a 12-yard loss at his own five, forcing a Highlander punt. Westchester took over on the 23 with 1:43 left.

Three plays later, Dunne Bowden scored the winning touchdown on a two-yard run with 1:06 remaining.

The Highlanders tried to put together one final drive. They got as close as the Westchester 18 with 1.7 seconds left. But a Winn pass fell incomplete.

"We had that second wind in the fourth quarter," said Drake, who rushed for 166 yards in 15 carries. "This is what we live for."

All season, Granada Hills' defense was successful in denying big plays. But Westchester's speed and size wore down the Highlanders in the second half.

Drake in particular lived up to expectations. Regarded as the best running back in the City Section, he broke away for runs of 36 and 44 yards.

"Everybody was missing tackles," Granada Hills free safety Peter Gunny said.

"We've had the best tackling team I've ever coached until tonight," co-Coach Darryl Stroh said. "We couldn't tackle anybody."

Westchester consumed large amounts of time in the second half after trailing, 21-14. On their opening possession of the third quarter, the Comets used up more than seven minutes. On their second possession, they ran off almost nine minutes.

It kept the Highlanders' offense stuck on the bench and left the defense with a helpless feeling.

"We were on the field so long," Granada Hills defensive tackle Roberto Garcia said.

The Highlanders can blame missed opportunities in the first half for their demise. Tommy Garagliano, usually a reliable kicker, missed two field goals and had another blocked.

The game started as if the Highlanders would cruise to victory. Gunny recovered a fumble on Westchester's first offensive play, then caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Winn. Soon, the Highlanders were up, 21-6.

They didn't score again.

Elway, the Highlanders' most famous graduate, faxed a letter to the team Wednesday from Denver. "I just wanted you to know that I am pulling for you. Let's make it 12-0," he said.

For a team that was 1-9 last season and finished 11-1, the Highlanders still took defeat hard.

"We could have played better, we could have played better," Gunny said as tears dropped from his eyes.

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