San Marcos football faltered in the second half en route to a 30-10 loss to Ventura on Friday at Warkentin Stadium.
The Royals kept the game within one score heading into the halftime locker room but were shut out for the final two quarters.
The opening kickoff took the life out of the San Marcos crowd as the Royals muffed the kick and turned the ball over to the Cougar offense.
“We shot ourselves in the foot on the first play of the game,” San Marcos coach Ralph Molina said. “Losing that first possession hurt us.”
However, the San Marcos defense responded with a goalline stop, preventing a score from the 3-yard line on three straight plays. Ventura settled for a 19-yard chip shot field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
Both defenses then buckled down for the remainder of the first quarter as the Cougars drew a pair of punts and the Royals forced a turnover on downs. However, neither led to points on the scoreboard.
That scoreless streak came to an end quickly, as the Ventura offense capped off a 10-play drive with an 18-yard pass from Derek Garcia to Liam Robinson in the endzone, expanding the lead to 10-0 with 8:10 left in the first half.
On the ensuing drive, San Marcos running back Nate Jones electrified the stadium with a 70-yard rushing touchdown on the second play of the drive to cut the advantage to 10-7 just 20 seconds after Ventura’s first touchdown of the night.
The Royals defense felt the momentum from Jones’ run and turned it into a three-and-out. On the punt, the Ventura punter mishit the ball and it flew five yards backward, setting San Marcos up with promising field position.
Diego Pedroza scampered 11 yards for a first down to get the Royals into the red zone. However, the offense stalled from there and called on kicker Rover Ojendis, who nailed a 30-yard field goal to tie the game up at 10 with 4:36 left in the half.
“Our guys knew we could play with them… I knew we had a shot tonight” Molina said.
Ventura didn’t take long to respond, as a 25-yard pass paired with a personal foul on the Royals put the ball deep in San Marcos territory.
On the next play, Garcia opted to take it himself and slipped through tacklers all the way for a 23-yard rushing touchdown. A successful extra point brought the lead back to seven at 17-10.
Along with the rushing touchdown, Garcia had an effective night through the air, completing 17-of-23 passes for 196 yards.
Both offenses threatened to score before the end of the half, but the 17-10 mark held into the locker room.
The Royals seemed to have the momentum out of halftime, as the defense stepped up with a turnover on downs in Ventura territory.
“I thought defensively we played pretty tough for the whole game,” Molina said.
However, San Marcos quarterback Danny Diaz threw an interception on a tipped pass and Cougar linebacker Mylan Walker flipped the field after returning the ball into Royals territory.
The Ventura offense wasted no time taking advantage of the turnover as Garcia connected with Daylin Hunter for a 26-yard pass down to the 1-yard line. From there, Gage Kushner punched in the score.
Following the extra point, the Cougars led 24-10 midway through the third quarter.
Similar to the first quarter, both offenses struggled to move the ball for the rest of the third as Ventura forced a pair of punts and San Marcos forced a fumble but were unable to take advantage.
The Cougar offense then opened up the fourth quarter with a strong offensive drive that was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Garcia to Robinson for their second score of the night.
Robinson ended with four catches for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
After a missed extra point, the lead sat at 30-10 with just over eight minutes left in the game.
The final San Marcos offensive possession was unsuccessful after a holding penalty and a sack by the Ventura defense put the Royals in a hole. The Cougars then ran the clock out to clinch the win.
“If we could just put four quarters together, we would probably have two or three more wins,” Molina said. “Right now, we’re a pretty good half football team, which is what’s frustrating.
“The first half was great tonight, if we would have played the same way in the second half it would’ve been a different ball game.”
Despite the loss, which dropped the Royals to 0-5 in league play and 2-5 overall, Molina believes there is still an outside chance of his team reaching the postseason with three games remaining.
“As frustrating as this is, we can still end up .500, which was our goal. We were 4-6 the last two years and have missed .500,” Molina said. “.500 can still get us in the playoffs if we end up in the right division that has wild card spots.
“We’ve still got a lot to shoot for.”
The first of those final three games will come next Friday against Dos Pueblos at Warkentin Stadium.