A rivalry renewed: Ventura edges Buena 23-21 in annual matchup

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Credit: Jason Messner / The Foothill Dragon Press

Nick Zoll

 

On Friday, Oct. 13, two of Ventura County’s most dynamic high school football teams participated in the 54th installment of the age-old rivalry that seems to be rekindled with more energy, passion and enthusiasm each year. This year, Larrabee Stadium played host to the annual crosstown matchup between the Cougars of Ventura High School and the Bulldogs of Buena High School. In recent history, the Bulldogs had been mired in a seven-year winless drought against the Cougars. Buena will have to wait another year to snap the losing streak, as Ventura’s second-half efforts combined with a game-clinching interception handed the Bulldogs a 23-21 loss. For the eighth straight year, the Cougars were the ones lifting the coveted trophy given to the winner of the highly anticipated event.

A recurring theme in the first quarter for the Cougars was disunity. They were unable to stay on the same page on the offensive side of the ball, resulting in four false start penalties in the first five minutes of the game.

Ventura’s blunders gave the Bulldogs excellent field position, and Buena quarterback Coby Barbar ‘18 capitalized on the opportunity. His 20-yard pass put Buena at Ventura’s five yard line, and Tanner Butterbaugh ‘18 finished the job with a rushing touchdown, giving the Bulldogs an early lead.

 

 

On the Cougars’ second possession, the offense appeared to stall once more against the resilient Buena defense. However, Cougars quarterback Kyle Gerardi ‘18 righted the ship. Scrambling out of the pocket while dodging the defenders, he fired a strike to wide receiver Louie Garza ‘18, who scored on a 48-yard catch-and-run to knot the score at seven. On the kickoff following Ventura’s touchdown, the Bulldogs’ kick returner bounced off tackles and nearly scored on the return. He fell short of the endzone and the ball was marked at the one yard line. Buena easily converted on the goal-line opportunity, stretching their lead to seven.

Once the second quarter began, the Cougars threatened to score right away. A 20-yard run by running back Chuck Wick ‘18 put Ventura on the two yard line. With their backs against the goal line, the Bulldogs defense held their ground for four straight plays, preventing the Cougars from tying the score and forcing a turnover. Ventura eventually regained possession, and Gerardi engineered a drive that was capped by a 53-yard field goal from kicker Rourke Rieman ‘20. With their lead now sitting at 14-10, Buena marched down the field on a very efficient drive, producing multiple first downs and setting them up at the opposing 20-yard line. However, the tide turned when Ventura’s secondary forced an interception on a throw from Barbar that was intended for the end zone.

Although the Bulldogs received the kickoff following the beginning of the second half, they couldn’t add to their dwindling four point lead. Forced to punt, Buena handed possession to the Cougars, who quickly cut the lead to just one point on another field goal from Rieman—this time from 37 yards out. Shortly after, Wick sliced through the Bulldogs’ fatigued defense and ripped off a 36-yard touchdown run, putting Ventura ahead for the first time: a lead which they would never relinquish, but not without a final push from their opponents.

 

 

Entering the final quarter of play down 20-14, the Buena offense was in the midst of a crucial  slump. After failing to convert in a fourth down situation, Rieman sent his third field goal of the game through the uprights from 41 yards away. In need of some instant offense, Buena’s prayers were answered: Barbar made a series of plays that positioned them inside the 20-yard line which set up a touchdown, keeping the Bulldogs in the game. Running a post route, Andrew Tilkens ‘18 made a one-handed catch over his shoulder. All of a sudden, it was crunch time; with five minutes to play, the Cougars held a 23-21 lead, and Buena had seemed to regain their footing.

A vital third down play for the Cougars was unsuccessful later in the quarter, forcing them to punt it away to Buena with three minutes left on the clock; still plenty of time for the Bulldogs to score. After advancing his team to midfield, Barbar threw an erratic pass over the head of his wide receiver. The ball was intercepted by middle linebacker TJ Barlow ‘20, sealing a 23-21 win for the Cougars. The game may have been down to the wire, but it continued Ventura’s winning streak regardless; this year’s installment of the rivalry game was dominated by the black-and-gold for the eighth straight year.

Barlow, who arguably made the play of the game, described the moment as “surreal.” The emotions that came with “[winning] it for all the seniors” caused him to be “speechless.”

 

 

On the other side, Bulldogs wide receiver coach Sam Harbert acknowledged that although the game was a heartbreaker, the team has showed immense improvement from last year’s blowout loss at Buena High School.

“Football wise, we’re getting a lot better [and] it’s improving quite a bit,” Harbet said. “We’ve instilled a lot of discipline. They come together, they battle [and] they play for each other.”

Next year’s rivalry game will mark its 55th anniversary. Scheduled to be played at Buena High School, the Bulldogs will try to snap their losing streak while the Cougars hope to be crowned as winners for the ninth straight year.

 

Storify Credit: Kathryn Brandi / The Foothill Dragon Press

 

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