After an early season in which the Pirate football team's offense seemed unstoppable, the defense has made stops lately to preserve the undefeated season. Facing another deficit late in the third quarter, the defense came through again on Donyai Dixon's interception and 90-yard return to the end zone to give Ventura (9-0, 4-0) the lead for good at Canyons Saturday. VC used two more interceptions late to seal the deal, clinching the Northern Conference title and becoming the first team to secure a berth in the state playoffs.
It was a battle between two of Southern California's heavyweights as No. 2 Ventura traveled to No. 6 Canyons with one loss between the two teams, and both teams were up to the test. VC took the opening kickoff and controlled the ball, driving 77 yards in 19 plays and eating over seven minutes off the clock. Julian Kelly rushed for 29 yards on the drive, and caught a pass for another 19 to set up a first-and-goal at the CoC 5-yard line. The drive stalled, however, and the Pirates settled for a 32-yard field goal from Alberto Arroyo and a 3-0 lead.
The teams then traded punts before the Cougars broke through with a 38-yard pass play to paydirt and a 7-3 advantage with 13:13 remaining in the second quarter.
Both defenses took over for the rest of the half as neither team could generate much momentum with the ball. The Pirates were limited to 136 yards of total offense in the half while Canyons mustered just 158 yards. The Cougars took a 7-3 lead into intermission.
After halftime, the Pirate defense continued to play well, forcing a Canyons punt on the opening possession.
Ventura then matriculated down the field 73 yards in nine plays before their drive stalled in the red zone again. Arroyo came on to connect with another field goal, this one from 35 yards out, and the Pirates pulled to within 7-6 with 7:22 remaining in the third quarter.
CoC responded on the ensuing possession, marching 47 yards down the field to the Pirates' 20-yard line before their drive stalled out. They attempted a 47-yard field goal that sailed wide left, and VC took control at their own 30. Three plays later, Canyons intercepted a Pirate pass taking control 24 yards from paydirt. After a 9-yard run to the VC 15, the CoC quarterback overthrew a pass to the left side that was picked off by Dixon at the 10. He returned the ball 90 yards down the sideline and around would-be tacklers, giving Ventura 12-7 lead with 43 seconds left in the third.
On the next possession, Canyons drove the ball into the red zone again, reaching the Pirates' 17 yard line before the VC defense buckled down again. On a 2nd-and-17 play, Cam Williams snatched another Canyons pass out of the air, returning the interception with a convoy of teammates 69 yards to the CoC 24 putting Ventura in position to add to its lead.
On the third play of the drive, Kelly rushed 19-yards off left tackle to the end zone for the score. Arroyo's kick made it 19-7 for VC with 11:26 left in the contest.
On VC's kickoff, the Canyons broke the return 64 yards to the Pirate 36-yard line. The Cougars then drove to the VC 23 before the Pirate defense came up big again. CJ Hodgdon grabbed Ventura's third interception in six minutes to stop the latest Cougar scoring threat.
Canyons never threatened again as the Pirate defense, with its ears pinned back, got to the quarterback on numerous occasions down the stretch. Matt Boyda had a sack on the next CoC drive, and Jonah Rubadue and Ralph Navarro shared a sack to give VC the ball back on downs.
On the Cougars' final drive, Demetrius Edwards recorded another VC sack, and Navarro made the stop on 4th-and-13 to give the Pirates the ball for the final time of the night.
The Pirates were limited to 251 yards of offense on the night, with Kelly leading the way with 99 rushing yards on 13 carries. James Miles ran the ball seven times for 40 yards and quarterback Jordan Pachot was 15-26 for 115 yards. Mark Ferrell led the VC receivers with four catches for 52 yards.
Defensively, Cail Jackson and Navarro each recorded six tackles while Dixon and Williams each had five stops.
With the victory, the Pirates clinch the Northern Conference title, VC's second straight and seventh in the past nine seasons (there was no competition in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic). They will look to complete the second undefeated regular season in school history on Saturday Nov. 13 at home against East Los Angeles. With a win, the Pirates would also lock up the top seed in the Southern California Football Association's Final Four, assuring home field advantage throughout the state playoffs. Kickoff at the Sportsplex is scheduled for 6:00 pm as VC Athletics celebrates Veteran Student Night and Military Appreciation Night.