After falling behind by 14 points late in the second quarter, Westlake High responded like a champion, scoring 28 unanswered points before holding on for a 49-42 victory over host Oaks Christian in the CIF Southern Section Northern Division final Friday night in Westlake Village.
Dashon Hunt scored five touchdowns for the Warriors (14-0), who likely wrapped up the Open Division state bowl berth by avenging their 29-28 loss to Oaks Christian in last season's title game. Hunt's one-yard plunge late in the fourth quarter gave Westlake a 49-35 lead.
Westlake Coach Jim Benkert doesn't care whether his team plays in the Open or Division I game, as long as it goes bowling.
"We've been one of the top teams in the state for a few years now and I feel we have a strong claim to one of the games," he said. "We just want to play another game and whichever one they put us in we'll be pleased with."
The Warriors beat Oaks Christian, 43-21, in their Marmonte League matchup on Oct. 6 and appeared to be on their way to an equally decisive victory, but the Lions mounted a furious comeback in the final two minutes.
Cameron Judge's 13-yard fumble return pulled Oaks Christian (11-3) to within 49-35 with 1:29 left. The Lions recovered the ensuing onside kick and Brandon Dawkins threw his fifth touchdown pass -- an 18-yard strike to Ishmael Adams -- to cut the deficit to seven points. Justin Moore recovered a second onside kick and the Warriors ran off the remaining seconds.
Francis Owusu scored Oaks Christian's first three touchdowns on receptions of 72, 69 and 20 yards, but the Lions were unable to overcome five interceptions from Dawkins, who completed 14 of 33 passes for 333 yards and rushed 14 times for 83 yards.
Moore's five-yard quarterback keeper capped a 13-play, 79-yard drive that increased Westlake's lead to 35-14 on the second play of the fourth quarter. Moore completed 13 of 19 passes for 135 yards and rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns in 26 carries.
"Justin is one of the most outstanding players I've ever seen, on both sides of the ball," Benkert said of his quarterback. "He was not going to let me take him out and at halftime everyone just decided we're not leaving here without a CIF championship."
Dawkins' six-yard scoring run pulled the Lions back to within a touchdown at 35-28, but he had his fifth pass intercepted on the next drive and Westlake took a 42-28 lead on Hunt's four-yard run -- his fourth touchdown of the game -- with 7:01 remaining.
"I think this is a statement of how strong the Marmonte Leagus is and the players we have in Ventura County," Benkert said. "We had all four semifinalists this year and these same two teams have met in the finals two years in a row."
Westlake took the second-half kickoff and drove 74 yards in four plays, scoring on Hunt's 26-yard run to take its first lead, 28-21.
Hunt's one-yard touchdown run pulled Westlake even with Oaks Christian, 21-21, with 3:08 left in the first half. David Ortiz set up the score with a 25-yard interception return to the Lions' 13-yard line.
Moore's 10-yard quarterback keeper brought Westlake to within 21-14 with 3:59 left in the second quarter.
Owusu's 20-yard touchdown catch had increased Oaks Christian's lead to 21-7 over Westlake midway through the second quarter. Owusu opened the scoring witha 72-yard touchdown catch with 5:23 left in the first quarter.
After Steve Pelino's 30-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright and bounced away, Westlake took over late in the second quarter. Moore gained 10 yards on a keeper but fumbled and James Thomas recovered for Oaks Christian at the Warriors' 45-yard line.
Moore made amends by picking off Dawkins' Hail Mary pass at the one-yard line on the final play of the first half. Hunt rushed 16 times for 102 yards and four touchdowns and Cody Tuttle had six catches for 51 yards for Westlake.
Owusu caught four passes for 179 yards and Adams added five catches for 88 yards for Oaks Christian.