Rio Mesa High broke the binding of the Dos Pueblos High playbook when it broke the leg of senior receiver Dylon Bailey during the opening minutes of Friday night’s Channel League football game at Scott O’Leary Stadium.
His injury eliminated the high gear of the Chargers’ offense, which soon grinded to a halt in a 36-3 defeat to the first-place Spartans.
“The plan was to get Dylon the ball and spread them out,” DP coach A.J. Pateras said. “We’ve been getting hit with eight-man and even nine-man boxes, and our plan was to break out of some of our tendencies by throwing the ball to him early before going back to the running game.
“But when he went down, we just couldn’t match up with them athletically on the outside to try to get any separation.”
Bailey caught two passes for 30 yards on just the first three plays from scrimmage. The third play, however, was the harm. He was injured while fighting for extra yardage on a 20-yard pass play down the left sideline.
“That was a big blow for the kids and the coaches,” Pateras said. “Dylon does a lot of great things for us. He ends his senior year on a couple of really good catches and good runs.
“But I think that it’s also just been that kind of year for us. It seems that with every positive thing we do, every step forward results in two steps back.”
Rio Mesa (6-2, 3-0), which remained tied with Pacifica atop the Channel League standings, outgained the Chargers in total yardage, 383 to 108.
The Spartans zapped DP (2-6, 0-3) with some Future Shock. A pair of youngsters — freshman quarterback J.J. Bittner and sophomore receiver Chance Harrison — combined for three touchdown passes.
Bittner, the son of Spartans’ coach Jim Bittner, passed for 186 yards and rushed for another 68 on just four carries. He completed 12-of-13 passes which included his last 11 in a row.
“They’ve got some good, young talent,” Pateras said. “(Bittner) has grown up in a football family. He’s been around the game because of his dad, and coach’s kids usually have a pulse for what’s going on.”
Five of Bittner’s passes went to Harrison, and DP was able to tackle him only twice. His three touchdown receptions accounted for 119 of his 128 yards of receiving.
Two major penalties stunted Rio’s first possession, but it was still able to scratch out three points on Matthew Romero’s 30-yard field goal.
DP came right kicking and fighting. Jordan Rico threw a pair of first-down passes to Bailey to set up Gregory Tripathi’s 43-yard field goal with 1:59 left in the first quarter.
The Chargers had a chance to take the lead after Cory Kazzi picked up a Spartan fumble and returned it 42 yards to the Rio 40. Cameron Lee got a first down by inches by fighting for a 2-yard run on fourth down.
The drive stalled there, however. Tripathi lined up for a 50-yard field goal but the snap was bobbled, leading to a 9-yard loss.
The switch in momentum proved fatal for DP. Rio Mesa scored twice in the last 6½ minutes of the first half.
Bittner set up the first one on a quarterback draw, dashing 42-yards to the Chargers’ 12. A big hit by Kazzi threw J’lin Wingo for a 2-yard loss, leaving Rio with a third-down situation at the 10. Bittner responded, however, by connecting with Harrison on a fade pattern to the left side end zone to put the Spartans ahead 10-7 with 3:18 left in the first half.
Two incomplete passes by DP, meanwhile, left plenty of time for Rio to strike again before halftime. Bittner threw an 18-yard pass to Sal Maria to get near midfield. He then hit Harrison in stride down the left sideline for a 57-yard TD strike to give the Spartans a 17-3 lead with 56 seconds left in the half.
Rio’s defense struck just as quickly to start the second half. Jordan Sunia stepped in front of a sideline pattern to intercept a DP pass on the second play of the period. He raced 25 yards to the end zone to improve the lead to 24-3.
“A lot of what happened tonight was self-inflicted,” Pateras said. “The fire we had in the second half went out as soon as that interception went down. We just didn’t get a chance to respond.
“Our league is so good that, every week, you can’t make little mistakes and think you’ll be OK. In a couple of nonleague games, those kinds of mistakes didn’t hurt us, and we were able to win two of them. But when the competition goes up, and the intensity goes up, you have to be mistake-free.”
The Spartans added two more scores in the next 13 minutes. J.D. Laupola’s 1-yard plunge capped a 60-yard TD march with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
Harrison then snagged another Bittner pass on a slant pattern and sliced right through the Chargers’ secondary for a 52-yard touchdown on the third play of the fourth quarter.
Rio’s defense keyed on Lee all night, holding him to just 30 yards rushing on 18 carries. Rico also ran for 30 on six attempts.
“That’s kind of been the game plan against us lately,” Pateras said of the run-oriented defense. “Pacifica did it against us, and so did Oxnard and a couple of other schools earlier in the season.
“We’ve got to be more two-dimensional.”
The Chargers will try to snap a three-game losing streak when they play host to cross-town rival Santa Barbara next Friday.
“The nice thing is that regardless how the season has gone, we get to play for a City championship, which is cool,” Pateras said. “We handled business (against San Marcos) and so did Santa Barbara.
“It’ll be exciting for our kids, and electric, and a real challenge, because they have a good young quarterback, too. I’m excited to see how the kids to respond on Monday.”