LATHROP — And that’s how you start a rivalry.
The inaugural Battle of I-5 was just that on Friday night, an absolute tug-of-war battle between Weston Ranch and Lathrop until its riveting conclusion.
This Valley Oak League opener came down to the final seconds at Bennie Gatto Field, as Lathrop quarterback Kenny Garrett overthrew tight end Nathan Ogunbanwo, who was blanketed by double coverage, in the end zone on fourth-and-7 from the Weston Ranch 16 with 2 seconds to go.
Weston Ranch’s Marcus Moore took a knee on the next play, securing the Cougars’ thrilling 35-29 victory. They now lead the series 5-0, but it wasn’t until this night that the rivalry was truly christened.
It was everything that first-year head coach Seth Davis had hoped for.
“Definitely,” said Davis, the creative force behind the Battle of I-5. “When you put that hype into a rivalry game, this is the kind of game you get. It came down to the very end and I’m glad my boys didn’t give in. They fought with their backs against the wall.
“This is a rivalry game, for sure.”
His Cougars (1-0 VOL, 2-2) led 21-7 at halftime, but Lathrop (0-1, 0-4) rallied for 22 unanswered points in the third quarter to take its first lead.
While mistakes — including two lost fumbles — plagued Lathrop in the first half, it was the Spartans who took advantage of miscues during their third-quarter burst aided by Andrew Gaynor’s blocked punt and an interception from Nilo Yuson.
Weston Ranch countered with the game’s final 14 points in the fourth quarter, and the decisive momentum swing came with 5:39 remaining.
Eric DeLeon’s 30-yard field goal attempt, which would have expanded the Spartans’ advantage to 32-27, sailed wide right, and on the ensuing play Weston Ranch went to its top playmaker to recapture the lead for good.
Moore hit Chris Cannaday down the left sideline with a playaction pass, and the electric wide out sprinted to pay dirt for an 80-yard touchdown and a 35-29 lead for the Cougars with 5:25 to go.
Weston Ranch relied on big plays all game, while Lathrop did its damage with time-consuming drives. The Cougars ran just 48 offensive plays compared to 77 for Lathrop.
“They were just pounding us,” Davis said. “They beat us in the trenches tonight, but for us to be able to go up top and make a couple of big plays, it obviously changed the momentum. In a rivalry game, momentum is everything. We went to our big-time player in big-time situations and he made a big play.”
Cannaday ended up with nine catches, 199 yards and two touchdowns. He leapt vertically to haul in his first score of the night, a 4-yard fade to the back corner of the end zone with no time left in the first half.
Moore completed 11 of 17 passes for 233 yards and three scores. He also ran one in from 3 yards out to give Weston Ranch a 14-0 lead 3 seconds into the second quarter.
Running back John McDonald rushed for 134 yards on 16 scampers. The school’s star sprinter scored on a 61-yard jaunt on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
Lathrop had a breakthrough performance from tailback Kevin Rainey, who piled up 164 yards and two TDs on 31 carries.
“My heart goes out to my boys right now,” said Lathrop coach Steven Wichman, still in search of his first career win. “I know they played their hearts out for all four quarters, that’s a fact. They should go home tonight feeling proud of the way we played tonight. The effort was there, it was just a matter of mistakes adding up.”