Nathan Barrios leaves Buena defenders behind on a 50-yard touchdown run that clinched Santa Barbara’s 42-23 Channel League win. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

VENTURA — Santa Barbara High’s football team used the game of hard knocks to move closer to a piece of a Channel League championship on Friday night at Buena.

The Dons turned hard-charging Nathan Barrios loose on the Bulldogs and got a terrific performance from their defense in the second half of a 42-23 victory.

Santa Barbara improves to 6-1 in league (8-1 overall) and remains tied for first place in the league standings with Rio Mesa and Pacifica, who both won their games Friday night. Buena falls back to fourth place at 5-2.

The Dons can clinch a tie for the Channel League title with a win over crosstown rival San Marcos next Friday night in the regular season finale.

Barrios ran for four touchdowns — two in each half — and rushed for 210 yards on 17 carries, as Santa Barbara played some old-school smash-mouth football. Quarterback Abel Renteria also ran for a touchdown and threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Kai Mault. 

Kai Mault catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Abel Renteria in the third quarter.

Kai Mault catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Abel Renteria in the third quarter. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

“He’s been waiting all year (for a game like this),” Santa Barbara coach JT Stone said of Barrios’ big-time performance. “He’s been banged up a little bit, so it’s been really hard to get him going on both sides of the ball. But he was our best football player last year and he’s our best football player again.”

Santa Barbara’s ability to run the football was a huge factor in the victory.

“We came in here with the plan to wear Buena down,” Stone said. “They have a lot of guys that go both ways. That No. 27 (quarterback/punter/kicker/linebacker Zane Carter) is a flippin’ super stud, hat’s off to him. But we knew this type of football game for us was really going to be won in the trenches. ‘Let’s pound this, let’s hit them hard, let’s run the football and tire these guys out and make them chase us around the field.’

“And our offensive line, I think we ran the ball for a decent amount of yards tonight, so I was just really happy with our offensive line and how our plan was going.”

Barrios said a pregame speech he used from Detroit Lions player Jamaal Williams on the HBO show “Hard Knocks” got him and the Dons fired up for the game.

“It really came to my heart,” he said of the speech that basically said the puppies stay on the porch and the big dogs go eat. “I wanted to be that big dog on the field today. And, the O-line came in frickin crazy. I love them.”

Santa Barbara defenders converge on Buena wide receiver Coin Guenther.

Santa Barbara defenders converge on Buena wide receiver Coin Guenther. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Barrios had touchdown runs of 19 and 7 yards in the first half, as the Dons led 22-17. A 2-yard run expanded the lead to 35-17 in the third quarter and he clinched the win with a 50-yard jaunt with 2:42 left in the game.

Santa Barbara let it be known early that it wanted to pound the football against Buena. It ran the ball on six of their first eight plays on their opening drive. But the drive stalled and the Dons punted. Buena muffed the punt and Murphy Cisneros recovered at the Bulldogs’ 14. 

On first down, Barrios went the distance for a touchdown. Roark Norton kicked the PAT for a 7-0 lead at 7:13 of the first quarter.

Buena came out flying when it got the ball. Carter was red-hot, completing five passes on a 67-yard drive and finishing the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run. The PAT tied the score at 7-7 at 3:48.

The Bulldogs got the ball back when Erick Guzman picked off Renteria. Carter hit Camden Walker for a 21-yard gain to put the ball at the Santa Barbara 14 and Buena took the lead on a 2-yard Carter run.

Santa Barbara responded with a 9-play, 67-yard drive that featured eight running plays. Renteria scored the touchdown on a 6-yard run. Kai Mault ran for the 2-point conversion to put the Dons ahead 15-14 at 7:07 of the second quarter.

Carter, with the help of a 44-yard run by Walker, led the Bulldogs down the field again. They reached the 7 before Santa Barbara linebacker Julian Castro broke through the line and dropped Stevie Plahn for a 2-yard loss on third down. Carter booted a 26-yard field goal to put Buena back in the lead, 17-15, at the 4:32 mark of the second quarter.

Santa Barbara stuck to its game plan of pounding the ball with Koa Herrera, Barrios and Renteria, who also mixed un a couple of short passes. On third-and-3 from the 7, Renteria faked a jet sweep with Winston Bartley and handed the ball to Barrios for a 7-yard touchdown and a 22-17 lead.

Buena benefitted from a couple of major penalties by Santa Barbara to try a field goal from 43 yards at the end of the first half, but Carter’s attempt fell short.

“We were really pleased with our start,” said Buena coach Ryan Bolland. “(Santa Barbara) is a really good, they’re really good defensively. They do a lot of different things, give a lot of different looks. They made adjustments and we sputtered a little bit.”

Santa Barbara’s defense came up big on Buena’s first possession of the second half. Linebacker Benicio Garcia-Holland stopped Carter on quarterback draw on third down from the 19, leaving the Bulldogs to try a 33-yard field goal. The kick was wide left.

“We knew we had to get to 27 and that’s what we did,” said Stone. 

The Dons’ offense took charge from there. The line opened up a hole for Barrios and he rambled 51 yards to the Buena 25. On the next play, Renteria went to the air and found Mault in the end zone for a 25-yard scoring strike, boosting the lead to 28-17 at the 4:47 mark of the third quarter.

Santa Barbara’s defense started putting more pressure on Carter and it paid off. With Damian Stehno and Roark breaking through the Bulldogs’ offensive line, Carter threw a pass that was intercepted by Andrew Tobin of the Dons at the Buena 32 and returned to the 22.

Four Barrios runs later it was 35-17 with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.

“They found we were a little softer in the middle and they were real stout in the middle. And that’s kind of what meant to be the difference down the stretch,” said Bolland.

Buena got one more touchdown as backup quarterback Ty Weeks scored on a 3-yard run.

But the Dons went back to Barrios and the senior bolted 50 yards for the clinching score.

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