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Pilots' mission: Stop McNeal

October 1, 2007 |  5:18 pm

So far, Banning has looked physical and imposing in constructing its 4-0 record. So far, the Pilots look ready to challenge Narbonne and San Pedro in the always rugged Marine League.

So far.

On Friday, Banning will face its biggest test in unbeaten (4-0) and 13th-ranked Venice, which is coming off arguably the program's biggest victory -- 41-35 over Oaks Christian -- and may have the most talent in the City this side of Birmingham.

But as talented as the Gondoliers are -- quarterback Richard Ragland (772 yards passing, eight touchdowns), wideout Jerry Johnson (388 yards receiving, four touchdowns) and two-way lineman Gerald Blockman (31 tackles, two sacks) -- the player Banning must respect and fear the most is Curtis McNeal.

The irrepressible and indefatigable senior running back has amassed 969 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, kickoff/punt returns and interceptions) and scored 13 touchdowns. This on the heels of last year's thunderous totals of 3,173 all purpose yards and 42 touchdowns.

Against Oaks Christian, McNeal scored a season-high five touchdowns, including the game winner on a 40-yard interception return.

Venice Coach Angelo Gasca wanted to lessen the team's dependence on McNeal this season, but so far it hasn't happened.

"We don't want to wear out the guy but we need him to do what he does to win games," Gasca said. "Curtis plays so hard and fights for every yard. But he doesn't want you to give the ball to someone else."

If Banning is going to win on Friday, the Pilots better force the Gondoliers give the ball to someone else.

-Mike Terry