Thousand Oaks running back Chase Martin grabbed the flag, waving it side to side, streaking across the field as white shirts poured over the fence from the sidelines.
What happened Friday night at Thousand Oaks High seemed impossible. As Newbury Park and Thousand Oaks ran out the clock on the fourth quarter and a single overtime period, some fans put their heads on shoulders and hands over hearts, saying this was the craziest football game they had seen.
When Martin finally burst into the end zone, clinching a 41-38 victory, students and teammates mobbed the gritty senior in a mix of jubilation and relief. After years of mediocrity, two undefeated teams put on a show that ushered in a new era of a storied Thousand Oaks rivalry — student sections and sons of coaches going head to head.
“It’s neat that you’ve got that hometown vibe still, and now it’s maybe even a bit more now — it’s generational,” Martin’s father, Lance, said before the game.
Thirty years ago, Martin lined up for Thousand Oaks across the line of scrimmage from Newbury Park offensive lineman Joe Smigiel to play for a league championship in 1989. On Friday night, their boys — Newbury Park quarterback Brady Smigiel and Thousand Oaks two-way senior Chase Martin — duked it out all night.
At first, the roller-coaster seemed like a snoozefest, Thousand Oaks jumping out to a 20-0 lead. The younger Smigiel threw three picks in the first quarter — one of which junior Silas Kemp ran back for a touchdown.
“That’s what I’ve been preaching to him for years — how do you respond to getting hit in the mouth?” Joe Smigiel said pregame.
Smigiel bounced right back, orchestrating a hurry-up offense and adapting to the pressure by finding receivers on the run. Running back Nolan Story finished a couple Panther drives with touchdowns, Smigiel snuck in over the goal line, and suddenly the Panthers had come all the way back to lead 21-20 in the third quarter.
Then, chaos ensued.
Travis Endicott led a drive that ended in a strike to senior Will Halub and a two-point conversion. Then Smigiel fired a touchdown to Noah McArthur. Then Chase Martin ran in a score. Then Smigiel threw a 52-yard bomb to tie the score at 35-35.
Final fourth-quarter drives by Endicott and Smigiel ended in interceptions as overtime loomed. And as fans stood, the well went dry — a first overtime turning into another when neither team could score.
After Newbury Park nailed a field goal, Endicott maneuvered the Lancers into position and Martin added the finishing touches with the touchdown run.
“It was a roller-coaster of emotions, of feelings, of confidence, of spirit,” Thousand Oaks coach Evan Yabu said.
In Joe Smigiel’s playing days, 30 years ago, the winding Lynn Road was a border between the west of Newbury Park and east of Thousand Oaks — crossing it meant heading into enemy territory, he said.
Newbury Park was middling for years. Thousand Oaks didn’t win a game in 2018 and 2019. On Friday night, with two programs on the upswing, the atmosphere of a relit rivalry would carry a little extra weight, Lance Martin said.
And for now, with Martin’s burst into the end zone, bragging rights lie to the east of Lynn Road.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.