2016-10-14 / Sports

Highlanders in hunt for first win

Royal defense aims to slow down Thousand Oaks’ potent ground game
By Jonathan Andrade


MISMATCH—Royal defensive tackle Elijah Ae powers through blockers at a practice earlier this season. 
BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers MISMATCH—Royal defensive tackle Elijah Ae powers through blockers at a practice earlier this season. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Jim Mora might not understand, but Royal High’s Wesley Anusiem is talking about football playoffs in early October.

Playoffs!?

Yes, the winless Highlanders are in playoff mode.

“ The playoffs are pretty much now for us,” said Anusiem, a senior cornerback who also lines up at wide receiver.

It’s never too late to turn things around—until it is. Anusiem said Royal has the same goals it had at the start of the fall: Win a Canyon League title and make a postseason run.

Both goals are still attainable for the Highlanders, who are led by first-year head coach Matthew Lewis.

“We have four games,” Anusiem said. “If we win out, I feel like we can win in the playoffs.”

The Highlanders will have to get past Thousand Oaks on Friday before opening their league slate Oct. 21 against Agoura on the road.

Royal knows what it’s going to take to get in the win column. It includes bottling up mobile Thousand Oaks junior quarterback Freddie Ricketts.

“We have to contain (Ricketts) so he can’t run the ball,” Anusiem said. “Offensively, we can’t turn the ball over.”

Thousand Oaks is looking to get back on track after a 27-10 loss to a tough St. Bonaventure squad on Oct. 7. The Lancers had back-to-back wins heading into last week’s matchup.

The Lancers are cautiously confident entering Friday’s road game.

“You can never underestimate a team,” said Thousand Oaks senior free safety Chase Johnson, who had a team-high eight tackles last weekend. “We have to take them seriously.”

“Records don’t mean anything,” said Jake Sebek, a junior Lancer running back. “They have some players. We have to keep our head straight and focused on the game going in.”

Sebek and sophomore running back Nate Davis provide a solid one-two punch in the backfield.

The duo turned 37 of the team’s 62 rush attempts into 188 yards and a touchdown against St. Bonaventure. Ricketts, who only threw the ball eight times, had 10 rush attempts.

Lancer head coach Mike Leibin said he expects his offense to be more balanced on Friday.

“I think Royal’s a pretty good football team with a new staff and a new system,” Leibin said. “They’re trying to find their way through things. I’m sure we’ll get every bit of their best.”

Lewis said this week’s game will be a good indicator of how the Highlanders will fare in the Canyon League.

“ We played Moorpark tough,” he said. “Thousand Oaks is very representative of our next three league opponents. If we play them well, going into league, we’re thinking we’ve made the steady improvements every week. We’re ready to go.”

Lewis keeps his recipe to success a bigger secret than Colonel Sanders’ 11 special herbs and spices. The coach said he “keeps stats internally” because he does not want to give his opponents too much information.

Daniel Henderson, a senior, solidifies the Highlander defense at middle linebacker.

Chris Hulin, a junior quarterback, is starting under center. Conor Miller, a senior wide receiver, is Hulin’s top target.

The Lancers hope a win over Royal can build steam heading into Camino League play.

“I don’t think we’ll blow (Royal) out, but I think it’s a winnable game,” Davis said. “We should go out and execute. And we should come out on top.”

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