VENTURA – In the blink of an eye, Ventura running back Conner Armstrong swept across the field and into the end zone on his first carry to score a 76-yard touchdown.
By the end of the first quarter, Ventura was up by three touchdowns in its first-round CIF Southern Section Western Division playoff game against Dominguez.
Behind Armstrong’s 235-yard, three-touchdown night, Ventura, the fourth-seeded team in the Western Division playoffs, easily handled Dominguez, 41-14, scoring early and often on Friday night at Ventura High School.
Armstrong scored on runs of 76, 48 and 30 yards. He scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and Ventura was up 21-0 before Dominguez knew what hit them.
A 5-foot-7 running back is what hit the visiting Dons. The run-oriented offense that Dominguez (7-4) uses doesn’t allow for quick scores or explosive plays. Playing with a three-touchdown deficit is not how Dominguez coach Keith Donerson expected to open the playoffs.
“It’s very challenging,” Donerson said. “It’s tough to come from behind.”
Even though Ventura (11-0) jumped out to an early lead, Cougars coach Brad Steward said he expected his players to keep their intensity up. Ventura was up 28-8 at halftime, but the game was far from over.
“I didn’t think so at all,” Steward said. “They did move the ball. We were fortunate we scored the first time we touched the ball.”
The first play of the game was actually a false start penalty called on Ventura. Steward said he doesn’t remember starting the game with a penalty, but it didn’t surprise him. He said his team was a little “rusty” after having a two-week break before the start of playoffs.
Ventura won the Channel League championship and finished with an undefeated record through its first 10 games. The Cougars had a bye on the last week of the season and had two weeks off before the Western Division playoff brackets were released.
“It felt like we made a lot of Game 1 mistakes,” Steward said. “We were rusty. These kids are very mature. Each contest is about winning and advancing.”
In addition to Armstrong’s two touchdown runs in the first quarter, receiver Nick Rudolph caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rodney Stanley. Rudolph caught three passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was the block that Rudolph made on Armstrong’s 76-yard touchdown run that the running back remembers most.
“That pretty much set me free,” Armstrong said. “He had a great night.”
Dominguez scored its first touchdown midway through the second quarter on a Michael Garrison one-yard run. Dominguez cut Ventura’s lead, 21-8, with 8:04 left in the second quarter.
Ventura went up 28-8 on a 73-yard touchdown catch by Rudolph just before halftime.
Jake Lanski kicked two field goals in the second half to help Ventura build a 27-point lead.
Garrison scored his second touchdown of the game on a six-yard run in the fourth quarter. He finished with 66 yards rushing in 18 carries.
Ventura will play Santa Monica in the quarterfinals of the Western Division playoffs next week.
Top-seeded Gardena Serra lost to Culver City, leaving Ventura as the highest seed left in the top half of the Western Division playoff bracket.