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Narrowing the Gap

Moorpark is more competitive but loses again to Westlake, 20-14

November 16, 2002|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

Someday, Moorpark High will defeat Westlake Village Westlake in football.

Of course, the same used to be said of Moorpark defeating Carpinteria in football, and it took 52 games for that losing streak to end.

Moorpark's drought against Westlake isn't nearly that long, but the Musketeers on Friday night lost for the fifth consecutive year to the Warriors -- and this one really hurt.

Playing before an estimated 7,500, the largest crowd in Moorpark history, Westlake (8-2) claimed its third Marmonte League football championship in four years with a 20-14 victory. The Warriors, 7-0 in league play, have won 28 of their last 29 league games.

The upside for Moorpark, which finished the regular season 9-1, 6-1 in league: Well, at least it was close. Westlake had won the previous four games between these programs by a combined score of 150-20.

This time, it took a game-saving interception in the end zone in 27.8 seconds left.

Starting from its own 19 with 1 minute 45 seconds left in the game, Moorpark drove to the Westlake 14. But on third and 10, Eddie Garcia's pass intended for Dennis Pitta was tipped by Westlake's Michael Stuart and grabbed by Cody Cipriano.

"We didn't bat it down and give them another chance. We made a play on it," Westlake Coach Jim Benkert said. "I'd hate to have had them line up for one more play."

Indeed, the way Garcia and Pitta had been connecting, one more play might have been enough for Moorpark.

Pitta, fast and rangy, had 13 receptions for 175 yards, including four for 53 yards on Moorpark's last-ditch drive.

Moorpark outgained Westlake, 357-230, but fell victim to three turnovers -- two fumbles and the interception -- a safety and smart, ball-control play by the Warriors, who got 104 yards and a touchdown in 31 bruising carries by Merrill Mullaly.

Certainly the Musketeers showed plenty of progress -- this game and this season -- but that was of little consolation to Coach Tim Lins.

"We can't say we're happy with progress," he said. "We wanted to win this game."

And "we" meant just about everybody, school Principal Anna Merriman among them.

Asked about the tears in her eyes after the game, she said: "We share their pride and we share their pain.... My heart is just broken for these kids."

If nothing else, Moorpark showed that its top-rated defense -- the Musketeers had allowed only 64 points this season before the game -- was no fluke and that it might be good enough to play deep into the playoffs.

Westlake's Benkert, for one, thinks so. "This is a good football program," he said of the Musketeers. "Coach Lins has done a good job of building this thing from the ground up. They're obviously ready to compete and obviously ready to win. I look for them to go a long way."

Going in, the Musketeers believed they still had plenty of doubters.

"You can sense it around the league -- it's like we shouldn't be doing this well," Rob Dearborn, a former Moorpark football coach who is now the school's athletic director, said a couple of days before the game. "Everybody sees Moorpark like it was when I moved into the area 20 years ago, as a train stop, a ranching community of a couple thousand people."

That train stop is now home to a population of nearly 33,000, but Moorpark is still a one-high school town, and the campus is bursting at the seams, having added 37 classrooms the last two years trying to keep up with burgeoning enrollment.

With the growth has come a measure of success in sports. Moorpark won or shared four championships in its first four years in the Marmonte League. But lagging behind, like a weighty caboose, has been the football team.

Indeed, football at Moorpark has never been confused with Santa Ana Mater Dei or Long Beach Poly. The Musketeers lost 46 consecutive games from 1977 through 1982, one of the longest losing streaks in Southern Section history.

And there was that losing streak -- 51 in a row -- against small-school power Carpinteria, a record of futility believed to be unmatched in high school football.

On occasion, good fortune smiled upon the football program, as it did in 1997, when Moorpark finally defeated Carpinteria, 33-0, prompting former coach Ron Wilford to say with relief, "There is a God in Moorpark."

The victory happened to be in a playoff semifinal, and a week later, Moorpark defeated Santa Monica St. Monica to win its only Southern Section football championship.

But that was in Division X. A year later, Moorpark was moved up to Division IV, where it has struggled against the traditional powers.

Lins, soft-spoken and well-respected, is in his fourth season as coach. He guided Encino Crespi to seven playoff berths from 1989-98 -- six of those coming in Division I -- and was an assistant at Crespi in 1986 when the Celts became the only San Fernando Valley team to win a football championship in the largest division.

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