Moorpark, Thousand Oaks prepare for another tight game

The first time Thousand Oaks and Moorpark met, a last-second field goal decided the outcome in Week 2. It was that close. Thousand Oaks kicker Jamie Sutcliffe made a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give the Lancers a 27-24 win.

The two teams meet again on Friday night in the Southern Section Northern Division quarterfinals at Thousand Oaks High School with much more on the line.

“I’m expecting a very intense game,” Moorpark coach Tim Lins said. “They’re always well-prepared.”

These two teams know each other very well. They meet every year in Marmonte League play. The previous two games went into overtime. Moorpark won in 2009, 28-21. Thousand Oaks won last year’s game, 29-28.

Thousand Oaks coach Mike Leibin says his team was probably the better of the two in 2009. Moorpark had the better team in 2010. When the two teams played on Sept. 16, Leibin said both teams were so evenly matched, he didn’t know what to expect.

“I was expecting Moorpark to be good,” Leibin said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. A lot has changed in 10 weeks.”

Both teams have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Thousand Oaks quarterback, junior Clark Abourisk, has developed into an experienced play-caller and a team leader, Leibin said. Moorpark has an NCAA Division I college quarterback in Grant Rohach, who also has the benefit of nine games since their last meeting.

But an unexpected tragedy struck the Thousand Oaks football team. Quarterback Griffen Kramer was found dead in a friend’s home over Halloween weekend. It was later determined by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department investigators that Kramer died of a heroin overdose.

The Thousand Oaks players are still recovering from the sudden death of their teammate.

“It’s a process,” Leibin said. “The kids have done a great job of supporting his family and each other.”

The Thousand Oaks players are wearing Kramer’s initials on their helmets and presented Kramer’s family with an autographed jersey before the Marmonte League finale. Leibin said his team is doing its best to find some sort of normalcy since Kramer’s death.

“Is it OK to be moving on?” Leibin said. “I think it’s what he would want. We’re doing a good job of not forgetting him in a lot of areas.”

As much as the two teams have changed since their first meeting, Leibin said there are plenty of things that are still the same.

“We have programs that have foundations that don’t change,” he said.

All five teams from the Marmonte League that entered the Northern Division playoffs are still alive. By comparison, three teams from the Bay League were in the first round of the Northern Division playoffs. None advanced. Three teams from the Golden League qualified for playoffs and only one, Highland, made it to the quarterfinals.

Moorpark and Thousand Oaks are coming off dramatic first-round wins in the playoffs. Moorpark (7-4) eliminated No. 4 seeded Valencia, 17-10, scoring a touchdown in the final minutes to take the lead and win the game.

Thousand Oaks (7-4) traveled to Quartz Hill in the Antelope Valley to take on the co-champion of the Golden League. Trailing 7-0, Thousand Oaks scored 20 straight points and knocked the Rebels out of the playoffs.

Thousand Oaks running back Nathan DeBeikes leads the Lancers in rushing with 1,096 yards and eight touchdowns. He rushed for 148 yards and scored a touchdown against Quartz Hill.

Moorpark, much like Thousand Oaks, likes to control the ball and the game on the ground. Aaron Stanton leads Moorpark in rushing with 778 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 games.

Rohach, Moorpark’s quarterback, is a bit of a dual threat with 1,638 yards passing and 15 touchdowns to go with 452 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns.

Rohach, who committed to Iowa State, threw for 187 yards and a touchdown against Valencia. Kenny Feyh caught the game-winning touchdown from Rohach with 7:12 to play in the fourth quarter. Lins said Rohach has stepped up his game after slipping some midseason.

“He struggled a little bit,” Lins said. “He was pressured Friday against Valencia. But he made some good decisions. It’s not easy to play that position. Guys look to him to make on-the-field adjustments. I think that’s a little bit tougher and he’s responded.”

Lins said several players on his team have improved over the season. Stanton is one who might be the difference in the game against Thousand Oaks.

“He’s a factor for us,” Lins said.

Stanton rushed for 141 yards, but was kept out of the end zone in the first meeting between the two teams. He also caught a 23-yard pass.

Abourisk passed for 234 yards and two touchdowns against Moorpark in Week 2. Blake Howell came up with a couple big plays for Thousand Oaks. He caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from Abourisk and returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

This game could go down to the final second again.

“If history has any say in it, it will be a tight one,” Leibin said.