Bolstered by the return of all-around star Jonathan McNeal from a knee injury, Venice High won its opening game in the L.A. City Section Division 1 football playoffs Thursday night, 24-7 over Sylmar.
Venice advanced to a second round game Wednesday night against Narbonne.
No Venice team has ever won the City championship although several have come close. The championship this season is the stated goal of several Gondolier players, but Crenshaw is heavily favored to prevail.
Venice went undefeated in the Western League this season and is 10-1 overall. Westchester, the Western League’s second place team, also won its first round playoff game, 28-18 over West Adams.
The six other first round winners were Crenshaw, Narbonne, Taft, Carson, Locke and Doesey.
In Division 2, a competition among lower ranked teams, two other Western League teams advanced as Hamilton and Fairfax won their games.
McNeal missed a month after being injured in practice. He returned for the final league game, a 24-20 win over Hamilton.
At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, McNeal has drawn attention from Division 1 colleges as a linebacker, but has also been a productive pass receiver. He had an 85-yard kickoff return this season in a non-league win over Santa Monica.
“When he was out it took four players to replace him,” said Venice coach Angelo Gasca. “He ran the show on defense.”
Venice has received outstanding quarterback play from senior Alfonso Medina throughout the season.
Narbonne, 6-5 overall, defeated favored LA Jordan in the first round, 33-0. Narbonne was only the No. 11 seed because it lost its two previous games in the Marine League.
Two finalists from the playoffs will reach the championship game in December in the Coliseum.