East County Sports

Wolf Pack in sync in second half

Cohen Benevente races to the end zone with an interception return. / Vic Marano


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By Nick Pellegrino
ECS staff writer


SANTEE —- The West Hills Wolf Pack knows first-hand about the defensive prowess of the Imperial Tigers.

In the last meeting between the ballclubs, Imperial blanked the Pack in a CIF playoff contest, 25-0, for the Tigers’ second straight CIF whitewash of the 2018 season.

In fact, a decade earlier, Imperial once posted five shutouts during a 6-game sequence — although the exception came in Game No. 4 when the Tigers and Holtville established a state record for the highest-scoring draw in a remarkable 50-all tie, one point better than Steele Canyon’s historic 49-all deadlock at Canyon Country High, of Valencia.

And for a half, Imperial was in a position to again blank the Pack until the halftime adjustments came into play.

Those adjustments came from several Wolf Pack players, but two stood out, in particular.

West Hills senior Max Conaway tallied a pair of second-half touchdowns, while senior corner Cohen Benavente raced 20 yards with an interception for the go-ahead score, allowing the host to topple Imperial, 21-7, Friday (Aug. 27) at Wolf Pack Stadium.

A completely different-looking West Hills unit came out of the intermission like a team on a mission.

The hosts took the opening kickoff on a game-tying, 88-yard march, capped by a 65-yard gallop by Conaway.

West Hills raced up and down the field several more times. Although the next drive ended with a missed field goal which would have given them the lead, Benavente registered the biggest play of the night.

Benavente stepped in front of an Imperial pass for the pick, then easily waltzed to the end zone.

The Pack got the ball back with seven minutes left, virtually running out the clock before Conaway hauled in a 3-yard TD pass from Braden Oberg. The quarterback faked going to his left, rolled out to the right, then found Conaway alone in the back corner of the end zone.

Imperial dominated the first half with its defense. The unit forced and recovered a pair of fumbles.

Defensive tackle Diego Valencia capped West Hills’ first possession by hauling in a loose football, setting up a 6-yard TD rush by Seth Shaw for a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes.

On the ensuing kickoff, another big hit allowed Ethan Gonzalez-Lopez to collect the ball and set up the Tigers in the red zone.

The contest could’ve completely turned against West Hills, but a sack by linebacker Freddy Rowbotham allowed the defense to get the ball back on downs when Imperial missed on a fourth-down pass to close the opening quarter.

West Hills went to blank Imperial the rest of the way, featuring an interception by Collin Dill, again stopping the Tigers in the red zone after the Tigers blocked a punt.

West Hills (2-0) close its non-league schedule with a pair of road games, next week traveling to Olympian for an early 6:30 p.m. kickoff, then Escondido on Sept. 10.

Imperial (0-1) next holds its home opener against Cibola, of Yuma, Ariz.


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