ENCORE

Newbury Park and Thousand Oaks renew rivalry. The stakes? A shot at a CIF title
Rivals prepare for historic football game



HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL /// CIF Division 5 playoff semifinals

This isn’t the biggest game of the year.

It’s the biggest game ever between two Conejo Valley public high school football teams.

Since 1970, Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park have played each other 55 times. When they kick off at 7 p.m. Friday in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 semifinals at Panther Stadium, it will be the rivals’ first game against each other in the playoffs.

Call this clash the Green Machine vs. Big Cat Attack, Volume 56, Special Edition No. 1.

“We’re bringing the community together on a Friday night in mid-November,” said Ben McEnroe, Thousand Oaks’ first-year head coach. “Being the only show in town is pretty special. We’re very blessed and honored to be a part of it. It means a lot to a lot of people.”

“It’s a really exciting game,” said Joe Smigiel, Newbury Park’s second-year head coach. “I have so much respect for Coach Ben and what they do over there. It’s going to be great for both sides. It’s great for the kids, it’s great for the county, it’s great for Conejo Valley.

“It’s just high school football— but it sure is exciting.”

Newbury Park bested T.O. 54-42 on Sept. 22 earlier this season, while Thousand Oaks leads the all-time series 30-24-1, but the anticipation for the opening kickoff has reached a fever pitch.

The rivals enter the showdown with identical 9-3 overall records, and they shared the Canyon League title with Moorpark. Players on both teams who talked with the Acorn tried to stay grounded while embracing the moment.

“Playing them in the regular season is the biggest game of the year. Playing them in the playoffs is special,” Brady Smigiel, Newbury Park’s starting quarterback and the coach’s son, said early this week. “Every single game, the goal is the same, and that’s to win. Thousand Oaks is a really good team. They’re very well-coached and really disciplined on offense and defense. Right now, we’re not thinking about Friday. We’re taking it one day and really one hour at a time, one step at a time. We just worry about the present moment.”

Smigiel, a wunderkind sophomore who has the talent, temperament and intelligence to one day play in the NFL, has already broken the Ventura County record for career touchdown passes with 95 scoring strikes.

Thousand Oaks defensive stars Dean Harrington, Blake Lauritzen and Cory McEnroe will try to stymie Smigiel and company. The power trio lead T.O.’s Gladiators of Wrath defense.

“Earlier this year, we didn’t play great against them and ended up losing. It’s a great opportunity for us to go into their house again,” said Dean Harrington, a senior linebacker and tight end who had 2½ sacks in the Lancers’ 19-13 win against Bonita in the Division 5 quarterfinals on Nov. 10. “We’re excited to get a second chance.”

Shane Rosenthal scored four touchdowns, three receiving and one on a kick return, in the fourth quarter of Newbury Park’s 41- 34 comeback road win against Foothill in the quarterfinals last week. Rosenthal, the leading Acorn Newspapers Player of the Year candidate, also snared two interceptions.

The Panthers are now in the semifinal round for the fifth time in program history.

“It’s going to be a very electric game,” said Landon Bell, a Newbury Park senior wide receiver who will sign a scholarship to the University of Arizona in December. “It’s a hometown rivalry. We’re going to try to make a statement and see who the better team is in town.”

Thousand Oaks reached the CIF finals in 2015, the last time the squad won a postseason game.

The Lancers have won six straight games since suffering their last loss on Sept. 22 to Newbury Park. Lauritzen, a senior defensive end/tight end who played two years of basketball and sprints in track, said the Green Machine has improved since the setback.

Photos by MICHAEL COONS and RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

Photos by MICHAEL COONS and RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

“We’ve been a pretty tough team, but we played pretty soft in some of our games. Now we’ve been on a roll doing well defensively and offensively,” Lauritzen said.

One of the area’s top sack specialists will try to make life miserable for Brady Smigiel.

“Brady is a great player,” Lauritzen said. “When you play with him, people are watching. There’s something fun about everyone having their eyes on you, especially since I’m the one chasing after him.”

T.J. Ford, a Newbury Park senior defensive tackle who transferred from Chaminade of West Hills, was forced to sit out the first meeting between the rivals. He’s suiting up this week.

“It gives me a little bit more of an edge. They don’t know exactly what I might do at the beginning of the game. They might have to adjust their schemes,” said Ford, who wants to play basketball and throw the shot put. “I’m just really excited to play them. I want to see what this whole T.O. vs. Newbury Park thing is about.”

GLADIATORS OF WRATH—Thousand Oaks High football linebacker Dean Harrington, donning the Green Helmet, sacks Bonita quarterback Daniel Mielke II during a 19-13 win in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoff quarterfinals on Nov. 10 at home. The Lancers will face longtime Conejo Valley rival Newbury Park in the playoffs for the first time ever at 7 p.m. Friday at Panther Stadium in the CIF semifinals. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

GLADIATORS OF WRATH—Thousand Oaks High football linebacker Dean Harrington, donning the Green Helmet, sacks Bonita quarterback Daniel Mielke II during a 19-13 win in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoff quarterfinals on Nov. 10 at home. The Lancers will face longtime Conejo Valley rival Newbury Park in the playoffs for the first time ever at 7 p.m. Friday at Panther Stadium in the CIF semifinals. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

Jackson Taylor, a sophomore quarterback, has steadily improved in his first season with Thousand Oaks. He spent his rookie year languishing on the bench at Oaks Christian.

“We’ve got to protect the ball offensively. Winning the turnover battle, that’s a part of any football game,” Taylor said. “We want to eliminate their big plays. We want to control the tempo. . . .

“We’re excited to play some football. We’ve just got to make the most of it. We want to enjoy it. You want to have fun when you’re out there. There are big stakes in this game, but you’re still playing a game. You get to entertain people—and you get to have fun while you’re doing it.”

Talon Gold, who paced the Black Cat Attack defense with 121 tackles in the regular season, is a hard-nosed senior linebacker.

FURY ROAD—Thousand Oaks cornerback James Luderer, left, deflects a pass intended for Newbury Park wide receiver Shane Rosenthal on Sept. 22. The rivals meet again this week in the CIF playoff semifinals.

FURY ROAD—Thousand Oaks cornerback James Luderer, left, deflects a pass intended for Newbury Park wide receiver Shane Rosenthal on Sept. 22. The rivals meet again this week in the CIF playoff semifinals.

“It means a lot to play for my hometown team and with friends I’ve grown up with,” Gold said. “It means a lot to play for my hometown. We’re blessed for this opportunity to play in this game. I’m super excited for it.”

James Luderer, a Lancer junior cornerback who has also played baseball and basketball in high school, snared an interception against Bonita.

“Our practices during the postseason have been our best practices of the year,” said Luderer, who enjoys watching the Las Vegas Raiders and Notre Dame football games on TV with his dad, Brian. “We’ve all been focused.”

Cory McEnroe, a junior linebacker and the son of the coach, led the Gladiators of Wrath with 11 tackles, two for loss of yards, in the quarterfinals. Brolin Harrah, a Lancer junior running back and outside linebacker, scored two touchdowns last week.

Harrah, who earned a Green Helmet earlier this fall, hopes his family will be the link between Thousand Oaks championships. His father, Jay, helped the Lancers win their last CIF title in 1987. Jay Harrah was a running back and linebacker, just like his son. Brolin’s older brother, Brando Harrah, was a linebacker/slot receiver and wrestler at T.O.

 

 

“Thousand Oaks means a lot to me,” Brolin Harrah said. “My family has gone here. My dad was the last to win a CIF title here. I feel like it would be a cool feeling to follow in his steps.”

This isn’t just another rivalry game.

It’s the one folks in Acorn country will be talking about for a long time.

“They’ll never forget this football game,” Ben McEnroe said. “I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m excited for the kids and for the kids at Newbury Park.

“This is special.”

Follow sports editor Eliav Appelbaum on X @EliavAppelbaum.