Oxnard's Caleb Stremcha scores the game's final touchdown in triple overtime, extending past multiple San Marcos defenders. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk Photo)

The San Marcos High football team came into Friday night’s contest against visiting Oxnard knowing that a loss would put an end to the team’s playoff hopes.

With that in mind, the Royals fought until the bitter end, which came in a losing effort as the Yellowjackets scored the final 2-point conversion in a game that went to three overtimes, ultimately ending in a 22-20 San Marcos loss at Warkentin Stadium.

With the loss, San Marcos fell to 3-6 overall with a 1-6 Channel League record. On the opposite side, Oxnard improved to 3-6 overall with a 3-4 league record.

Despite the loss, San Marcos coach Ralph Molina told Noozhawk he “couldn’t be more proud of his team.”

It was a hard-fought contest all night, with the only points of regulation coming in the first half.

Oxnard drew first blood, with the Yellowjackets going on a 17-play touchdown drive that lasted over seven minutes in the first quarter.

The drive ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Maria to senior wideout Mateo Cazarez. Even more impressive, the Yellowjackets went 4-for-4 on third downs during that opening drive.

From there, the San Marcos defense stepped up to the challenge and eventually the offense pitched in, with senior running back Joseph Herrera punching in a one-yard score in the second quarter to tie the contest at 7-7.

Both teams drove the ball to each other’s side of the field, but ultimately drives would stall out, with the half ending at 7-7.

San Marcos quarterback Robert Simentales turns the corner as Oxnard defenders chase him down. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk Photo)

“My message at halftime to my team was that we are in a fight and we have two choices and we either go toe to toe or we run,” Molina said. “I told that to my guys and told them to make up their mind about what they want to do… and you know what, we went toe to toe.

“I am just so proud of these guys. They did such a good job giving their full effort.”

The third and fourth quarters saw plenty of consistent plays but also some mistakes that killed drives.

Late in the fourth, San Marcos drove the ball to the Oxnard 36-yard line with under six minutes to play, but a holding penalty on 3rd and 8 stalled the drive and San Marcos was forced to punt.

“We had a couple of opportunities, and we just did not cash in,” Molina said. “We missed a field goal in the first half and we had penalties and made some mistakes and that was tough.”

Oxnard then took the ball and drove it down to the San Marcos 25-yard line with 1:10 left to play, facing a 3rd and 2.

On that play, Herrera stepped in front of a slant and picked the ball off, dashing Oxnard’s hope of a game-winning attempt and forcing overtime.

Oxnard started with the ball in the first overtime and drove it down the Royals’ throat, scoring a touchdown to go up 14-7.

On San Marcos’ drive, senior quarterback Robert Simentales, who had success running the ball all night, found more success with his legs, driving the ball down to the 8-yard line.

The drive was ultimately capped off by a touchdown from junior running back Nathan Jones, who had himself a great night as well.

Jones finished the contest with 65 yards rushing on 14 attempts and a pair of touchdowns.

“He’s been playing good football and these last few weeks, he’s really turned on,” Molina said. “It took him a while for him to wake up and get it done, but he’s only a junior so we got him back.”

San Marcos originally lined up to go for the 2-point conversion at the end of the first overtime, but after a timeout by Oxnard, Molina decided to kick the extra point and extend the contest.

“I just figured we have a pretty good kicker and I wanted to keep playing,” Molina said.

Both teams then missed a field goal attempt in the second overtime, forcing a third overtime in which teams have to go for the 2-point conversion following a score.

San Marcos started with the ball and in six plays drove the 25 yards to get into the endzone thanks to a six-yard touchdown run from Jones.

San Marcos running back Nate Jones dives into the endzone for the overtime touchdown. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk Photo)

On the two-point conversion, the Royals decided against running the ball with either their quarterback or running back and ran a rollout pass that was intercepted.

“The call was based off some scouting stuff and it is what it is, it’s one that we will play back over and over,” Molina said.

San Marcos forced a three-yard loss on first down of the ensuing Oxnard drive and the crowd was into the game.

However, Maria found his top target, receiver Victor Menendez, on the next play for a 15-yard pass. The Yellowjackets then went to the ground, as running back Caleb Stremcha scored on the following play.

On the two-point conversion, the Yellowjackets ran a rollout slip pass to receiver Marcus Mendez, who went in untouched to end the contest.

“It is one of our best play calls and it worked again for us,” Oxnard head coach Lonnie McCowan said. “It was a great game and that was a good football team over there and I am just so proud of these guys.”

Molina echoed the sentiment that McCowan had of the game.

“This is my 42nd year of coaching and that was one of the best football games I have ever been involved in,” Molina said. “Nobody likes losing, it is unfortunate we lost, but I am just so proud of these guys.”

San Marcos ends its season at winless Channel Islands next week.