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Santa Barbara Comeback Falls Short at Agoura, 24-16

Golden Tornado lose Jeremiah Nicholson down stretch of CIF playoff game

Jeremiah Nicholson tried to bring Santa Barbara back in the fourth quarter, but an injury to his knee knocked him out of the game. Click to view larger
Jeremiah Nicholson tried to bring Santa Barbara back in the fourth quarter, but an injury to his knee knocked him out of the game. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

The comeback was on.

Senior quarterback Jeremiah Nicholson had the Santa Barbara High football team on the move against Agoura in the fourth quarter of its CIF-Southern Section Division 9 first-round playoff game on Friday night. He had just driven the Golden Tornado down the field for a field goal, cutting the deficit to eight points.

Starting at the Agoura 49, Nicholson handed off to Donavan Zavaleta for a 13-yard gain. Nicholson then called his number and picked up 11 yards, but he remained on the ground after being tackled. From the pained expression on his face and his limping to get off the field, it was apparent he would not be able to continue.

So ended the comeback, as Santa Barbara was unable to generate another serious threat and dropped a 24-16 decision against the Chargers.

After Nicholson went down, the Agoura defense came after Franky Gamberdella and made it tough for the sophomore to move the ball. The Chargers sacked him on fourth-and-12 and took over the ball on their 27.

Santa Barbara’s defense stepped up and forced Agoura to punt.  The Golden Tornado — the team’s nickname during the CIF playoffs — took over at their 37, but a bad snap on first down pushed them back 24 yards to the 13 with a little over 2 minutes left in the game. They got 19 yards back before eventually giving the ball back to Agoura on downs. The Chargers ran out the clock and celebrated their first playoff win in several years.

"I felt like if we could have had another shot with him at quarterback, we would have scored the  touchdown," Santa Barbara coach JT Stone said of Nicholson, who was hit on the knee by a helmet.

Nicholson rushed for 71 yards on 10 carries.

Santa Barbara opened the game on a good note. The Golden Tornado ran the shifty Zavaletta at the Chargers before Ruben Velez broke off right guard for a 30-yard touchdown run. The Golden Tornado tried a trick play on the conversion and Nicholson was tackled short of the end zone, leaving them with a 6-0 lead at 9:52 of the first quarter.

Agoura came right back and drove 75 yards on 12 plays, with quarterback Spencer Lin scrambling and firing a 10-yard pass to Kurtis Thoegersen for the tying touchdown. Riley Magnone kicked the PAT to give the Chargers a 7-6 lead.

Santa Barbara went to Nicholson at quarterback and he led the Golden Tornado to a go-ahead touchdown. He had runs of 8 and 20 yards, hit Natani Drati on a 12-yard pass and completed a short pass to Chris “Tick” Jellison, who turned it into a 21-yard touchdown play. Jose Lopez’s PAT gave the Golden Tornado a 13-7 lead with 8:20 to go in the second quarter.

Agoura was in position to go back into the lead, but Santa Barbara’s defense held the Chargers on third-and-goal from the 8. Magnone booted a 26-yard field goal to make it a 13-10 game.

The Chargers took the lead before halftime after stopping the Dons short of a first down on a fake punt. Lin competed a couple a 33-yard bomb to John Galindo to move the ball to the 4. Three plays later he hit Morgan Koff for the touchdown, putting Agoura ahead 17-13.

Koff had a big night for the Chargers, catching 12 passes for 176 yards and two scores. Lin completed 17 of 34 passes for 258 yards.

"We got to step up and play D, and that’s one of the things we just didn’t do," Stone said. "They’re not a big football team but they execute very well. If you’re not going to get pressure on the quarterback he’s going to be able to do what he wants. And he did that."

Santa Barbara’s offense sputtered coming out of halftime and Agoura capitalized. Koff ran a slant pattern and Lin hit him in stride for a 31-yard touchdown, boosting the Chargers’ lead to 24-13 with 5:36 to go in the third period.

After the defense held Agoura on a couple of possessions, Santa Barbara’s offense got going behind Nicholson. He guided the team from the 20 to the Chargers’ 10 before the drive stalled at the 10. Lopez drilled a 27-yard field goal to keep the Golden Tornado in striking distance with 7:41 to go.

Santa Barbara’s defense, with the help of a 15-yard Agoura penalty, did its job and forced a punt. The Golden Tornado took over at their 49, but their hopes of coming back were dashed by the unfortunate injury.

"It came down to every single play in this game and they made more plays than we did," said Stone.

 Santa Barbara ends the season with a 5-6. With its fourth straight win, Agoura advances to the second round.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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