In the high school football playoffs, league champions typically get to host first-round games against teams that narrowly eke out a berth into the postseason.
But Lompoc High, which went undefeated in Channel League play, learned on Friday night that there are no cupcakes in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. Capistrano Valley of Mission Viejo used a potent passing attack to capitalize on Lompoc miscues and eliminate the Braves with a 24-7 victory at Huyck Stadium.
Senior quarterback Nathan Manning connected with junior wideout Jack Haley on two first-half scoring strikes of 44 and 27 yards to set the tone early and help the Cougars (8-3) deal Lompoc (8-3) a rare early exit from the postseason.
“That might have been one of the toughest first-round opponents I’ve ever had,” said Andrew Jones, the Braves’ longtime coach and former player. “Mark my words: They were in every game they (lost) against Mission Viejo, San Clemente and Tesoro, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a run in this division.”
Capistrano Valley needed just five plays to cover 60 yards on its first drive to open the scoring. Manning’s 44-yard touchdown pass to Haley gave the Cougars a quick 7-0 lead.
Lompoc answered with an impressive drive that started at its own 14-yard-line. Junior quarterback Cameron Iribarren ran and threw for key first downs to march the Braves into Cougars territory. On a third-and-7 at Capistrano Valley’s 27, Iribarren knifed his way through the middle for hard-fought hards and an apparent first down at the 18, but the play was negated on an illegal procedure penalty.
What could have been a first-and-10 at the 18 turned into a third-and-12 at the 32. After an incomplete pass forced fourth down, Lompoc took a timeout and elected to attempt a 49-yard field goal. A miscue on the snap and hold resulted in an 18-yard loss and a turnover on downs, setting up the Cougars at midfield at the end of the first quarter.
Six plays later, Manning found Haley once again — this time on a 27-yard strike — to give the Cougars a 14-0 lead with 9:54 left in the half.
On Lompoc’s ensuing drive, junior tailback Leondre Coleman dragged defenders for a 9-yard, first-down run, but an apparent knee injury sent him to the sidelines. He would return later in the quarter and finish the game with 82 yards on 22 carries. Iribarren finished with 70 yards on 19 carries.
“Those guys (Iribarren and Coleman) are tough dudes,” said Cougars coach Ernst Bucher. “They got up every time and kept on battling the whole game. We came in here knowing we were going to face a well-coached, physical Lompoc football team, and that’s what we got tonight. They play a good brand of football, and it’s unique. We’ve played physical football teams, but not ones with multiple formations like that.”
Capistrano Valley’s stingy defense forced a three-and-out on Lompoc’s first drive of the second half, then its offense answered with an eight-play, 59-yard drive, which was capped on a 2-yard touchdown run by junior running back Dylan Flynn to push the lead to 21-0 in the third quarter.
Lompoc started the fourth quarter with a solid drive that covered 62 yards on eight plays. The drive was capped with a designed quarterback draw play for Iribarren, who went nine yards for the score to cut the deficit to 21-7 with 9:40 left.
The Cougars promptly started their next drive with a fumble, and Lompoc senior defensive back Andrew Galindo pounced on the ball to give Lompoc prime field position.
The Braves, however, gave the ball right back by fumbling on the next play. A botched handoff was recovered by Cougars’ linebacker Jayce Hunter to dash Lompoc’s hopes of a furious fourth-quarter comeback.
Capistrano Valley later capped the scoring with 21-yard field goal by Lance Gardiner for the 24-7 advantage.
“That fumble was definitely a dagger,” Jones said. “But I’m proud of our kids. We’re the smallest public school in this division, but our kids kept fighting the whole way.”
With a slew of juniors slated to return to next year’s squad, the future is bright for Lompoc’s football team.
Jones commended his seniors for four years of hard work.
“We had only 11 seniors, and hats off to those guys,” Jones said. “We started off with 40 freshmen in that group, but those (11 guys) were mentally and physically tough to stick it out for four years. For us, sitting here right now, we were Channel League champs, and we still have a lot to look forward to.”