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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Westlake wins league title

Warriors prove they can challenge for Northern Division title with impressive victory over Marmonte League rival Moorpark.

November 13, 2009|Eric Sondheimer

It's scary how good unbeaten Westlake Village Westlake looked Friday night in routing Moorpark, 38-14, to win the Marmonte League football championship.

So good that people were thinking, "Oaks Christian who?"

Yes, their neighbors less than a mile away, unbeaten Oaks Christian, would have been envious of the championship performance before a packed crowd of 7,154.

The Warriors were supposed to be a year away from being championship material because their team is filled with outstanding sophomores and juniors.

But in the course of 10 games, those young players have progressed so much that Westlake (10-0) has become a legitimate threat to win the Northern Division championship.

This wasn't an average team that the Warriors dominated. It was Moorpark (9-1), with a defense that's much respected and two quarterbacks, Brody Rohach and Brian Blechen, who are considered future college quarterbacks. But the Warriors intercepted three passes, two by Michael Tack, and shut down all of the Musketeers' big-play weapons.

Receiver-defensive back Nelson Spruce, a junior, is a human highlight film. If Pete Carroll or Rick Neuheisel doesn't start paying attention to him, they'll be kicking themselves when he's burning them at Stanford or California. He had a 79-yard touchdown reception, his 14th of the season, and stole the ball out of a defender's hands for a 28-yard reception. He finished with four catches for 125 yards.

Let's go through the underclassmen who made major contributions for Westlake.

There was junior quarterback Nick Isham, who passed for 179 yards, scored two touchdowns and had an interception playing defensive back. He was pressured by Moorpark, which got three sacks in the first half, but he kept scrambling and left the Musketeers frustrated and helpless even though Westlake led, 14-7, at halftime.

"Isham just refuses to lose," Coach Jim Benkert said. "We put the ball in his hands and good things happen."

Junior running back Tavior Mowry rushed for 122 yards and scored a touchdown. Sophomore defensive end Johnny Stuart and sophomore defensive tackle Justin Solis plugged the middle and denied any long gains to Moorpark running back Austin Edmonson.

And then there was Tack, the senior representative who returned an interception for a touchdown and sparked a secondary that executed to near perfection.

What a coaching matchup it was. Benkert and Moorpark's Tim Lins have known each other since they were the offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, for Bill Redell at Encino Crespi in 1988. Then Benkert went off to rebuild Westlake and Lins took over as head coach at Crespi. When Lins left for Moorpark in 1999, they began a yearly Marmonte League encounter that friends and foes alike look forward to seeing.

John Kidder, who spent eight years as an assistant at Westlake and the last nine at Moorpark, said, "They continue to look like they're 25. I say they hire great assistant coaches so they don't have to stress."

Lins, 48, prefers to stay in the background. If he ever sees a sportswriter approaching, he retreats for cover. Benkert, 51, enjoys expressing his opinion and is a member of the Southern Section football advisory committee.

Each has built a program ready to take on the area's two private school powers, Oaks Christian and St. Bonaventure, when they join the league next season. Westlake, in particular, has so many top underclassmen that the Warriors should be penciled in as one of the top-five teams in Southern California for 2010.

And maybe 2009 based on their performance Friday.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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