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Carpinteria Comeback Thwarted by Santa Clara in Frontier League Title Game

OXNARD — Carpinteria and Santa Clara were slugging it out for the Frontier League football championship, and just as the Warriors appeared to have the Saints on the ropes in the final seconds the hosts delivered a stunning knockout blow.

Michael Barajas intercepted a pass at the Santa Clara 15 and returned it 85 yards for the clinching touchdown, giving the Saints a wild 48-35 victory for the league title.

The pick spoiled an incredible comeback performance by Carpinteria, which trailed 28-14 at halftime and pulled to within 40-35 with 5:38 left in the game.

“I thought we battled so hard,” Carpinteria coach Rick Candaele said of this team. “We could have stopped at halftime, but we just talked about giving the Warrior effort, keep battling to the last play. And it came down to the last play.

“It came down to the last play and we battled to the last play. How can you keep your head down?"

Santa Clara’s running tandem of Amos Scott and Darius Ramirez combined for 351 yards rushing and five touchdowns. The speedy Ramirez had 199 yards on 22 carries and the powerful Scott gained 152 on 19 rushes.

“They got some playmakers they assembled together,” Candaele said of the Santa Clara, which wins the league with a 3-0 record and is 8-2 overall. It's the Saints' first league title since 2007.

Carpinteria finishes second at 2-1,  6-4 overall, and advances to the CIF-SS Division 12 playoffs. The playoff pairings will be announced on Sunday.

Down 28-14, the Warriors scored on their first possession of the second half, driving 58 yards for a touchdown. Quarterback Vance Keiser found the end zone on a 4-yard run and Tito Arroyo kicked the extra point to make it 28-21.

The Carpinteria defense stepped up and forced the Saints to punt for the only time in the game. But the Warriors couldn’t muster anything on their next possession.

The Warriors’ defense came up big again, stopping Santa Clara a yard short on a fourth and 7 at their 33.

Keiser went to work, completing passes of 10 yards to Leo Vargas and 30 yards to Terrell Richardson to put the ball on the Santa Clara 7. On first and goal, he ran up the middle and took a big hit from Barajas at the goal line. The ball popped loose and Santa Clara's Elias Porras recovered in the end zone.

“We made our own breaks,” said Candaele, referring to the fumble at the goal line and the interception return in the fourth quarter. “You can say we made mistakes at crucial times or they made big plays at crucial times. When you go back and look at it, those are two scores we could of had. But that’s how football goes.”

Santa Clara capitalized on the fumble, driving 80 yards for a touchdown — a 14-yard run by Scott — to give the Saints a 34-21 lead with 8:26 left in the fourth quarter.

Carpinteria stayed in the game and came right back with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Keiser to Brady Sturdivan at 7:58 to make it a 34-28 game.

Santa Clara countered with runs by Scott. He accounted of 47 yards on a 65-yard drive, capping it with a 7-yard touchdown run to put the Saints up 40-28 with 5:59 left in the game.

A great kickoff return by Chris Ramirez gave Carpinteria the ball at the Santa Clara 45. On first down, Keiser hit Sturdivan for a 45-yard touchdown play to pull the Warriors to within five at 40-35.

The Saints marched back down the field, but a fourth-down pass from the 15 fell incomplete. The Warriors took over the ball with 2:12 left.

Keiser, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns, moved the Warriors to the Santa Clara 25. But Barajas spoiled Carpinteria’s shot at its first league title since 2002 with his pick-6.

“I think we had a great year, these kids had a great year. I’m proud of them,” Candaele said. “I told them I’ve never been more proud of a group than these kids right here for that battle right there. There were 4-5 times we could have stopped but we didn’t.”

Santa Clara roared out of the gate, with slippery quarterback Robert Rush hitting Scott for a 21-yard touchdown pass after chasing down a high snap from center, avoiding defenders and delivering the ball.

Carpinteria tied the score on a 2-yard run by Vargas. The TD was set up by a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch by Terrell Richardson on a 57-yard pass from Keiser.

The speedy Ramirez shook off tacklers and raced 57 yards to put Santa Clara back in the lead, 14-7.

But Carpinteria answered after a 70-yard kickoff return by Vargas. Two plays later, Jacob Macias scored on an 11-yard run to tie the score 14-14 at 11:06 of the second quarter.

Santa Clara took control of the game, as Scott scored on a 28-yard run and Rush passed to Christian Rizo, who turned the play into a 77-yard touchdown for a 28-14 lead with 1:11 left in the first half.

“We’re down 14 and I told the boys at halftime, ‘We’re just gong to be 0-0 and let’s go get a score,’” Candaele said. “We don’t get them all at once, we get them one at a time. But they kept scoring back.

“I thought we battled,” he added. “We answered the bell each time it came up and I thought we were going to ring it for the last time until we got dinged.”

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