Michael Johnson III
Pacifica’s Michael Johnson III runs away from Santa Barbara defenders on a 94-yard touchdown play. (Felipe Garcia / Noozhawk photo)

Losing two NCAA Division 1 prospects to first-quarter ejections would cause most high school football teams to sputter and possibly spiral out of control.

When Pacifica High running back Malik Sherrod and wide receiver Savonne Farmer were ejected for fighting Friday night in a non-league game against Santa Barbara, the Tritons maintained focus and simply reloaded to keep their potent point-scoring machine rolling to a 38-7 victory over the Dons at Scott O’Leary Stadium on the campus of Dos Pueblos High School.

“We’ve had good football teams in past years, but we haven’t had the depth that we have now,” said Pacifica Head Coach Mike Moon, whose team improves to 4-0 this season. “If it were four or five years ago, that happens and the game goes into the tank. This year, to be honest, we have five really good running backs. We moved Michael Johnson from the slot to running back, and after tonight, he might be getting phone calls tomorrow morning with offers from D-1 schools.”

Johnson finished with 12 rushes for 157 yards, including a 94-yard scoring run, to carry the load for Sherrod, who was ejected after gaining 80 yards on 12 carries in the first quarter alone.

The Tritons entered Friday’s game averaging 66 points per game and had already compiled more than 1,000 rushing yards as a team through three games. Their balanced attack and big-play offense was as potent as advertised, burning the Dons for 356 total yards and a 31-7 lead by halftime.

The Dons (3-2) knew they’d be facing an offensive powerhouse, and Head Coach J.T. Stone said, overall, he was pleased with his team’s effort.

“My hat is off to our kids,” Stone said. “This could have been a lot worse than it was, and we had our moments.”

Dons quarterback Deacon Hill connected with senior wideout Jackson Gonzalez for two big plays — a 45-yard completion that set up Santa Barbara’s lone score in the second quarter, and 57-yard gain in the third quarter.

Malik Sherrod

Santa Barbara defenders had their hands full trying to contain Pacifica running back Malik Sherrod in the first quarter. (Felipe Garcia / Noozhawk photo)

On both plays, Gonzalez was seemingly running free in the open field with nothing but the end zone in front of him, but to Stone’s surprise, the Tritons’ speed was able to chase down the speedy wideout and deny touchdowns.

“That doesn’t usually happen to Jackson,” Stone said. “That’s how talented those (Pacifica) guys are.”

Hill finished 14-of-31 with 193 yards. Following the 45-yard completion to Gonzalez that placed the Dons on Pacifica’s 5-yard-line, Hill punched the ball in two plays later on a 2-yard run to cut the Tritons’ lead to 24-7 with 2:57 left in the half.

“I thought Deacon played well considering all the pressure we had,” Stone said. “He made some good throws, but we had some drops. Our receivers have to do a better job of playing against man press (coverage). … This is a good team to compete against as far as man coverage. We knew it was going to be a challenge, but we were able to get our screens off and move the ball when we needed to.”

Pacifica got off to a fast start, weathering three consecutive holding penalties and completing an 80-yard drive with a 19-yard scoring run by Sherrod. On the ensuing kickoff, Pacifica’s well-placed kick caught a Dons player off guard and the Tritons recovered the ball at Santa Barbara’s 37-yard-line.

“I have to fix that,” Stone said. “It’s something that will never happen again. That punched us in the gut. You can’t give that type of team the ball back.”

The Dons’ defense held firm and forced a turnover on downs when defensive back Saloman Manzanrez deflected a fourth-and-goal pass by Tritons quarterback RJ Maria. But Pacifica went on to score on each of its next four possessions to take a 31-7 lead into halftime.

Maria finished 12-of-17 for 161 yards and a touchdown.

The Dons will have a bye next week as they prepare for “The Big Game” against crosstown rival San Marcos on Oct. 4.