Santa Barbara and Pacifica, two high school football teams that can light it up offensively, got defensive in the second half of their Channel League clash on Friday night.
The visiting Tritons came up with two key plays on defense in the fourth quarter and then held the ball for the final 5:48 to escape with a 24-21 win over the Dons on Homecoming Night at Peabody Stadium.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for Santa Barbara, which is now 5-2 and 1-1 in league. Pacifica won its second straight to go to 3-4 and 2-0.
“It was a real good football game,” Santa Barbara coach JT Stone said. “I still think we’re the better team. Our kids came in here with the energy because everybody did not pick us to win.
“If you look at the game, we had our opportunity. We should have won this game. We just made key mistakes at the wrong time.”
The difference in the game was a 27-yard field goal by Pacifica’s Derrick Mejia on the last play of the first half. His kick, which was set up by two long runs by wide receiver Josh Joyner and a pair of passes from quarterback Tagg Harrison to Savion Taylor, gave the Tritons a 17-14 lead.
The Dons had just tied the score at 14-14 on a 25-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Abel Renteria to wide receiver Trent Williams with 2:59 left in the second quarter.
The Tritons scored on their first possession of the second half, driving 62 yards on 10 plays. Harrison and Taylor, both freshmen, combined on a perfectly executed 13-yard fade pattern for the touchdown and a 24-14 lead at 8:49 of the third quarter.
Renteria and Santa Barbara answered with a 66-yard drive, capped by an 18-yard draw play by the quarterback for the touchdown. Jeffrey Lechuga’s extra point made it a 24-21 game at the 5:24 mark.
Neither team would score again as the defenses took over.
Andrew Tobin intercepted a Harrison pass deep in Santa Barbara territory to thwart the Tritons. Unfortunately for the Dons, they were called for two penalties on Tobin’s return, and the ball was placed back at their 5-yard line.
After getting hit with another penalty, the Dons faced a third-and-2 at their 23. Renteria tried another fake-and-run play, but Pacifica linebacker Peter Slade Jr. read it and tackled Renteria for a 1-yard loss.
Ben Gordiner made a big defensive play on Pacifica running back Philip Kim, dropping him for a 5-yard loss on the Tritons’ next possession. The Dons forced a punt and almost got a huge break when Slade, the punter, fumbled the snap. But he recovered the ball, avoided the pursuit and got off a 48-yard rugby-style boot to the Santa Barbara 8.
The Tritons stopped Renteria for no gain and two long passes fell incomplete, leaving the Dons with no choice but to punt.
“We had two series where we had just major busted assignments,” Stone said.
Pacifica coach Mike Moon said the Tritons went back to the pressure defense they’re used to playing and it paid off.
“We haven’t been doing a lot of that, so we went back to what we like to do and we ended up being able get more pressure (on Renteria), because the other way wasn’t working,” he said. “We were getting pressure on them, but that kid is good.”
Renteria completed 17 of 30 passes for 184 yards and rushed for 64 yards on 11 carries.
The Dons would get the ball back at their 24, but Pacifica’s defense took over. On first down, linebacker Jordan Whitney blitzed and sacked Renteria for a 9-yard loss.
Santa Barbara went three and out with just over six minutes left and never saw the ball again.
Linebacker Grant Gonzales made a big hit on Pacifica power back Niko Narez on a fourth-and-1 from the Santa Barbara 24, but the 220-pound Narez slipped off the tackle and picked up the first down with two minutes left.
Pacifica ran out the clock and handed Santa Barbara its first defeat since the season opener.
Moon said his team played a much better game in the second half.
“In the second half, I felt like they wanted it,” he said. “They performed and came through in the clutch. It ended up really big having the field goal before the half.”
The game started out as most people expected.
Renteria lead the Dons to a touchdown on their first drive. He completed 4 of 5 passes, including a 22-yarder to Jack Holdren, who had a big night with six catches for 93 yards. Koa Herrera finished the drive, catching a pass for 13 yards and running the final 5 yards for the score and a 7-0 lead.
Pacifica tied the score on an 86-yard drive in the second quarter. Harrison hit Tommy Alfaro on a 39-yard bomb up the sideline to set up the score. Harrison completed a fade to Taylor for the touchdown at the 8:54 mark.
Alfaro beat the Dons deep again, hauling in a 43-yard pass from Harrison to put Pacifica into the lead, 14-7, at 4:53 of the second quarter.
Harrison completed 13 of 19 passes for 158 yards, with one interception.
Renteria shook off the Pacifica rush and hit Holdren on passes of 15 and 22 yards to move the ball to the Tritons’ 25. On third-and-10, he found Trent Williams over the middle to tie the score at 14-14 with 2:59 left.
That left Harrison plenty of time to move the Tritons into field-goal range for what proved to be the deciding points.
— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.