WESTON RANCH — The Cougars found a way to get the job done.
Still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, Weston Ranch (2-2, 4-3) defeated Valley Oak League rival Lathrop Spartans at Friday’s homecoming game, 15-6.
“Lathrop always plays us tough,” said Cougars coach Mike Hale, who was spotted with an early 2-0 lead thanks to a safety.
The Spartans (0-4, 0-6) were pinned back to their end zone on their very first possession. Abel Villa’s punt settled inside the 10.
Four plays later, Lathrop made a miscue on special teams, sailing the snap from center over the head of punter Austin Plunk and out of the end zone.
From there, the two teams were locked in a defensive battle.
Just shortly before half-time, the Cougars nearly made a costly mistake by flubbing a punt at midfield. But then linebacker Marcus Vega-Tatum delivered a bone-jarring hit, with the screen-pass play going for negative yards.
Lathrop’s best effort on offense came right after the intermission. Relying mostly on the ground game, the Spartans caught Weston Ranch off guard.
“We had run the ball so much — (Weston Ranch) had 10 kids in the box — that the play-action pass worked out nicely,” said Lathrop coach Jesse Rodriguez.
His quarterback, Preston Rizo, delivered the pass to Plunk, who made an over-the-shoulder grab even with defenders draped around him. With the ball inside the Cougars 5, Lathrop finally scored on Rizo’s quarterback keeper.
The Spartans then tried an on-side kick.However, Weston Ranch’s Candelario Elizondo somehow managed to haul in the loose ball at midfield.
But the Cougars were having a rough time trying to get their offense untracked.
“We’re still missing a combination of guys for various reasons,” said Hale, who attributed some of his team’s offensive woes to the key losses.
No surprise, he had to rely on his defense.
Eddie Melero, Cody Simerley and Elizondo came through with big second-half stops. Midway through the fourth, Weston Ranch offense finally made the big play.
Quarterback Joe Tillman connected with running back Traeshon Gulley, who caught the pass inside the Lathrop 20 and raced into the end zone from there. All told, the scoring play covered 51 yards.
“Joe made a key throw when we needed it,” Hale said. “That score (by Gulley) came at the right time.”
The Cougars missed the extra-point kick but led, 8-6.
The Spartans had one last chance but couldn’t deliver.
Weston Ranch took over at midfield. Alex Esan picked up 22 yards and Elizondo capped the drive with his 10-yard TD run.
Hale praised his team.
“We were able to overcome some early adversity and keep our heads in the game,” he said.
Rodriguez recognized his defense.
“Our guys played good (on defense) for the exception of that long TD pass,” said Rodriguez.
Both teams, in addition, made their share of mistakes.
Lathrop had seven penalties while tacking off 45 yards on penalties.
The Cougars had eight penalties for 60 yards.