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Oaks Christian Lives Up To Hype Against Alemany in Season Opener

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Chris Coyle, Nick Montana and Malcolm Jones celebrating after winning their division title for Oaks Christian last season. LA TImes/Lori Shepler

Chris Coyle, Nick Montana and Malcolm Jones celebrating after winning their division title for Oaks Christian last season. LA TImes/Lori Shepler
Guest post by Mark Dittmer/Special to LAist

It’s sort of a cliché, but only because it’s so often true. In the Oaks Christian-Alemany high school football season opener Friday night, the well-known position players got the glory, but the game was won on the line of scrimmage.

In other words, it was the biggest players—players like six-foot, five-inch, 288-pound Cassius March—who came up biggest for Oaks Christian of Westlake Village on Friday as the Lions opened their 2009 season with a 28-17 win at Alemany in Mission Hills.

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“There’s a lot of talent on the line,” March said after the game. “We’ve got the ability to control what goes on on the gridiron. This was a huge win for us.”

March’s Oaks Christian team entered Friday’s 2009 season-opener with about as much hype as is possible for a high school team. The Lions combine a tradition of dominance (72-3 over the last half-dozen seasons) with highly sought-after talent (a half-dozen members of this year’s team have committed to Division I colleges) and parental star power (the team features the offspring of Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, and Will Smith).

And the stars did not disappoint. Quarterback Nick Montana (Joe’s son) completed 12-of-26 passes for 142 yards, while running back Malcolm Jones ran for an absurd 268 yards on 37 carries.

But Alemany’s skill players may have been just as brilliant on Friday, which is why Oaks Christian’s dominance of the line of scrimmage made the difference in its season-opening win.

The Lions knew they would be hard-pressed to contain Alemany’s small-but-speedy running back Malcolm Marable, but they probably didn’t count on having such a hard time with the Warriors’ first-stime starting quarterback Vernon Adams, who wound up completed 8-of-13 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns.

It was late in the first quarter when Oaks Christian started to realize what it was up against. That was when Marable, playing defense, intercepted Montana, setting up a two-play drive engineered by Adams. Adams hit Kevin Renik on consecutive pass plays, the second for a 23-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.

“That was a good first game, to play a team like then,” said Montana, who later threw a touchdown pass to Blair Holiday to put Oaks Christian back on top for good early in the second quarter. “Our line did great, our receivers did great.”

And of course, the running back did great. Jones carried the ball on more than 50 percent of the Lions’ offensive plays. But one of the reasons he was so consistently great were the holes opened up by that Oaks Christian line. While Marable was every bit as fast as Jones (as evidenced by the several open-field tackles Marable made on Jones), he had not nearly as many holes to run through, and finished with just 57 yards on 17 carries.

Not that the Lions shut him down; Marable had that interception, and he also had four second-half receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown.

“Our coach said that the sky’s the limit for us,” Marable said afterward. “For all the mistakes that we made, we hung in with them pretty close.”

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Marable’s touchdown cut the Oaks Christian lead to 28-17, and after the Alemany defense forced a turnover on downs early in the fourth quarter, the Warriors seemed poised to strike again—they reached the Oaks Christian 22-yard-line with about five minutes left in the game.

But Adams fumbled while trying to avoid the punishing Oaks Christian pass rush (his second lost fumble of the game), and that was the death blow to Alemany’s hopes for an upset victory.

As much as Marable may have rued mistakes like Adams’ fumble, the truth was that Alemany had Adams to thank that there weren’t more turnovers. On many plays, he scrambled out of disaster, creating something out of nothing after the pocket collapsed upon him.

In other words, he and Marable did as well as they could have been expected to do, given the way the Oaks Christian line dominated the line of scrimmage.

And the Oaks Christian linemen were no less dominant on offense. So it was that once the Lions recovered Adams’ final fumble, they simply handed the ball off to Jones on seven of the game’s eight final plays to seal the victory.

“Sometimes after I get three or four carries in a row, over and over, it gets kind of tiring,” the running back said cheerfully. “I’m gonna go to bed. We’ve got film tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning.”

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