Koa Herrera
Santa Barbara running back Koa Herrera cuts back to find more running room against Pacifica. (Jaime Herrera photo)

OXNARD — After committing five turnovers in the game, the Santa Barbara High School football team capitalized on an interception to put itself in position to take a late lead at Pacifica on Friday night.

Down 21-14, the Dons drove 88 yards following Andrew Tobin’s pick and scored a touchdown on a 19-yard pass from Abel Renteria to Kai Mault with 2:13 left.

Dons coach J.T. Stone elected to go for the two-point conversion and the lead. Santa Barbara was denied.

Pacifica recovered Santa Barbara’s onside kick and speedy running back Josh Joyner broke a 51-yard touchdown run on first down to give the Tritons a 28-20 victory in an exciting Channel League opener.

Stone said it was a unanimous decision by the coaches to go for the two-point conversion.

“We’re going to come down here to play and we’re going to come down here to win,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is we talked about it, but the wrong information was called out on that damn play. 

“We’re gonna play to win and that’s it,” Stone added about the decision. “That’s all on me, and I’ll do it again. We’re here to win.”

The fact the Dons were in position to win the game was crazy. Pacifica picked off four Renteria passes, including three in the first half and three in the red zone. In addition, the Tritons’ Day Day Aupiu stripped the ball from Koa Herrera at the 1-yard line as the running back’s forward progress was stopped after an 18-yard completion.

“Right there in the red zone,” Stone lamented. “We should have put up four more touchdowns.”

Nathan Barrios

Nathan Barrios returns to action for the Dons and scores a touchdown on an 11-yard run in the third quarter. (Jaime Herrera photo)

Pacifica coach Mike Moon, a good friend of Stone’s for many years, was relieved to escape with the first league win.

“We literally have coached 21 years against each other, and this is the last time, he said. (Stone is leaving for North Carolina at the end of the season). “I told him, win or lose, it’s pretty great to share the field with him on Friday night. It’s always a battle.

“It’s a good friendly rivalry and I’m glad to be on the winning side.”

The result leaves both teams with 2-1 records for the season.

Pacifica jumped on the Dons on its first possession, driving 73-yards on eight plays and scoring on a 1-yard run by Joyner.

Santa Barbara’s defense stiffened and the offense responded with a tying touchdown. On a 78-yard drive, Renteria completed a 31-yard pass to Winston Bartley on fourth and six to keep possession. On the TD, he threw a swing pass to Herrera who sped into the end zone from 11 yards. Jeffery Lechuga kicked the PAT to knot the score at 7-7 at 2:31 of the first quarter.

Pacifica came right back with a 70-yard touchdown run up the middle by Joyner  at the 2:09 mark. Derrick Mejia’s extra point gave the Tritons a 14-7 lead.

Joyner rushed for 173 yards on 15 carries.

Renteria put the Dons in position score again, but Aupiiu intercepted a pass at the Pacifica 12.

Once again, the Santa Barbara defense held. The Tritons lined up to punt and ran a fake that resulted in a 46-yard touchdown run. The play, however, was nullified by a holding penalty.

“Our defense played lights out again,” said Stone. “I told the kids, we’re gonna leave our mark, and Santa Barbara football can play.”

The Dons were on the move again as Renteria completed passes to four different receivers to move the ball to the Pacifica 19. On first down, he hooked up with Herrera and the running back got stripped of the ball as the Triton defenders stopped his progress at the 1.

Pacifica got its fourth turnover of the first half when 6-foot-4 cornerback and USC commit Maliki Crawford intercepted a tipped pass.

The Tritons picked off their fourth pass on Santa Barbara’s first possession of the second half and Jesse Taylor Jr. returned it  68 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.

Santa Barbara kept its composure and drove down the field for a score. Herrera broke off an 18-yard run and Nathan Barrios ran behind a great block from center A.J. Gomez and scored on an 11-yard run to make it 21-14 at 4:42 of the third quarter.

Barrios made his first appearance of the season after missing the first two games with a leg injury.

Lechuga hit a pooch kick and Michael Cabral recovered the ball at the Pacifica 41. The Dons, however, were unable to capitalize.

But they did after Tobin intercepted Pacifica quarterback Tagg Harrison at the 12.

Santa Barbara used a mixture of Barrios and Herrera runs and Renteria passes to Barrios, Bartley and Mault to move down the field. Mault caught the touchdown pass from 19 yards to put the Dons within one , 21-20, with 2:13 left in the fourth quarter.

They went for two, and the play was disrupted by Pacifica defensive lineman Alexander Villa’s rush on Renteria.

“He’s been making plays down the stretch. He’s one of our solid seniors,” said Moon.

Renteria threw 50 times in the game, completing 32 for 343 yards. Bartley and Mault had big nights catching the football. Bartley had a career-high 12 receptions for 111 yards, while Mault caught eight passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. Barrios had six catches for 52 yards.

The Dons are on the road again next Friday in the tough Channel League, playing at Oxnard.

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.