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Santa Barbara’s Beautiful Plays, Defense Spark 20-7 Win Over Pacifica

Dons overcome mistakes, even record at 3-3 going into a bye week before Channel League opener vs. San Marcos

Natani Drat lays out to catch a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Frankie Gamberdella in the second quarter. Click to view larger
Natani Drat lays out to catch a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Frankie Gamberdella in the second quarter. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara High executed some plays of beauty and had some ugly moments, too, in a 20-7 non-league football victory over Pacifica on Saturday night at La Playa Stadium.

The beautiful plays on offense included exquisite passes from quarterback Frankie Gamberdella to receivers Natani Drati and Jackson Gonzales for touchdowns.

On the defensive side, the Dons made a defensive stand inside the 5 in the first quarter, middle linebacker Henry Hepp crushed Pacifica ball carriers all night, Johnny Coleman soared to make a spectacular interception in the third quarter, lineman Andrew Hernandez recovered  a fumble to stop a long Pacifica drive in the fourth quarter and outside linebacker Ben Carreno made a clutch interception in the fourth quarter with the outcome still in the balance.

The ugly parts of the game for the Dons were two thrown interceptions in the end zone (four total) and three holding penalties in the red zone that pushed the ball from first and goal at the 1-yard line to third and goal from the 40. The embarrassing sequence ended with an interception.

The Dons (3-3), however, pulled themselves together to earn an all-important win going into a bye week before opening Channel League play in two weeks against city rival San Marcos.

"We’ll take the W," Dons coach JT Stone said. "I told the kids we had to go into league 3-3, especially after that loss last week (44-34 at Royal). It really hit us in the gut. I saw some good things tonight. We were able to run the football a little bit more."

The defense stepped up behind the play of Hepp. He made plays all over the field, delivered some big hits on Pacifica running backs and helped stuff the Tritons on a goal-line stand on their first series of the game.

Johnny Coleman makes a leaping interception of a pass intended for Pacifica’s Miles Williams. Click to view larger
Johnny Coleman makes a leaping interception of a pass intended for Pacifica’s Miles Williams. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

"We just didn’t finish the game last week," Hepp said. "Our coaches put it on us this week: ‘How much do you want it? Do you guys want to go 2-4 into league and give San Marcos a chance that they can beat us. Or, do you wan to go 3-3 and turn the season around.’

"We knew it was all up to us. We got to clean it up a little ... we should have had a goose egg, but we just got to (clean up) in coverages and everything and we’ll be good."

Stone raved about Hepp's play, saying he's like a throwback to the hard-nosed, gnarly NFL middle linebackers of a bygone era. 

"Henry played lights out," Stone said. "He's playing on a bum ankle and a fracture in his hand. He’s a warrior. If I ever see a ‘dirty football player,’ a 1960s-, 70s-style football player, that’s what he is. "

Natani Drati made a big play in the defensive backfield, breaking up a pass play on third and four from the 15 in the second quarter. The Tritons missed a 32-yard field goal, keeping the game scoreless.

Santa Barbara broke through after an 18-yard Pacifica punt put the ball at the Tritons’ 44. Gamberdella  passed 14 yards to Drati and 8 yards to Jeremiah Phillips before finishing the drive with a terrific 21-yard throw to Drati, who laid his body out to make the catch in the end zone.  Jose Lopez kicked the PAT for a 7-0 lead at 1:45 of the second quarter.

"We had a pretty good offense, receivers were getting open," said Drati. "They had good DB's, especially No. 14 (Miles Williams), so we moved around and got open."

The Dons took a 13-0 lead in the third quarter after a spectacular interception by Coleman. He made a leaping grab of the ball intended for the 6-foot-2 Miles Williams.

Five plays after the interception, Gamberdella threw a 65-yard bomb to Gonzales, who made a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch in full stride along the left sideline. The Dons were hit with an excessive celebration penalty and missed the PAT kick from 35 yards. 

"Frankie just put it up for me and I just had to run under it and get it," said Gonzales, who noted that he was the second option on the play.

"It was big time," Stone said of the pass and catch." I was happy with Frankie’s delivery on that one, but Jackson did a phemenonal job. His number wasn’t called as much tonight, but when we needed him he made the big play."

Gonzales said the play of the offensive line was key in the game. "Our O-line stepped up great tonight. We were able to run the ball and that opened up a lot for us receivers to catch a lot more passes. And, that opened up a lot of things for us."

Dons linebackers Henry Hepp and Ben Carreno (28) put the finishing touches on a Pacifica ball carrier. Click to view larger
Dons linebackers Henry Hepp and Ben Carreno (28) put the finishing touches on a Pacifica ball carrier. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara defense held the Tritons scoreless until they capitalized on an interception by Williams in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback RJ Maria lofted a long pass that was tipped by a Dons defender and fell into the hands of Michael Johnson III. He raced 75 yards for a touchdown, cutting Santa Barbara’s lead to 13-7 with 7:19 left in the game.

Santa Barbara responded with a long drive, but the Tritons picked off Gamberdella for the fourth time on third and goal from the 5.

Carreno then came up with his big play. On first down from the 20, he got into Maria’s passing lane and intercepted a pass, returning it to the 8.

Three plays later, Gamberdella ran six yards for the clinching touchdown with 47 seconds left.

"Ben is one of our best defensive players. He was where he was supposed to be, he did his job," said Stone.

Gamberdella made things happen with his feet in the game, rushing for 67 yards on 11 carries.

"His scrambles kept us in the game," said Stone.

Passing the ball, Gamberdella was 24 of 37 for 331 yards and two scores, with four interceptions.

Drati caught nine passes for 95 yards and Gonzales had three catches for 84 yards.

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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