WESTLAKE VILLAGE — They used to be unmerciful. Now they were receiving mercy.
It felt like mockery.
Oaks Christian was getting “running-clocked,” as coach Jim Benkert said. Chaminade was beating them 47-10 and there was no need to stop the fourth-quarter clock, no doubt to be resolved, no point in pretending.
And no precedent.
“We’re not used to that, and we’re not used to losing our opening game,” Benkert said. “We had to right the ship, address things immediately. We felt some kids had quit. We weren’t going to accept that.”
The Lions met three days later, sat in front of unmerciful video, listened to exasperated coaches. They junked the spread offense that was designed for quarterback Matt Corral, who had transferred to Long Beach Poly, and for receiver Mycah Pittman, another national name now at Calabasas.
“We had to stop trying to put a square peg into a round hole,” Benkert said. “And we had to change the leadership.”
He gestured at the 58 players who were warming up before Tuesday’s practice. Only four of them are seniors. Only two of them are in the starting 22.
Somehow they stopped the clock.
Then they made it run into December.
On Friday, the Lions play Helix, from San Diego, in a state regional playoff game.
Oaks Christian won the CIF Division 2 title last week 20-19 over Valencia, which had been averaging nearly 55 points. The Lions beat Upland in a playoff game when Nathan Lenthall returned an interception 95 yards with 25 seconds left.
They are 12-2 and a powerhouse again, the way they were when they won six consecutive CIF titles, when Robert Fletcher was 9 years old and used to watch ‘’Marshall Jones, the Clausens, a bunch of big dudes. I said, ‘Wow, this is where I want to go.’”
Now Fletcher is the dude, playing every down as a receiver and safety, playing special teams. He had two interceptions and a blocked punt in a 42-13 playoff win over Edison.
He’s the son of a construction worker who didn’t know if he could afford to attend Oaks Christian, the school with a Four Seasons Hotel around the corner and Westlake Village Studios down the street, with Will Smith’s son Jaden and Lionel Richie’s daughter Sofia among its alumni.
In the fall, Fletcher will study and play football at Brown.
“He’s our blue-collar guy, the guy who gets all bloodied but never comes off the field,” Benkert said.
This is not a Rocky story, not at a place like this, but the Lions didn’t just push the “win”…