Ty Montgomery
Ty Montgomery scores on an 8-yard run to give Santa Barbara a 14-0 lead in the second quarter on Thursday. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

The execution was better, the play calling more diverse, the defensive pressure and hitting more intense.

Overall, the Santa Barbara High School football team was a much better team Thursday night in its first game at Peabody Stadium in five years.

The Dons scored three rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Deacon Hill threw for one score, and Anthony Lopez had a Pick 6 in a 34-12 victory over Hueneme.

“It was pretty awesome,” senior multipurpose player Ty Montgomery said of finally playing in the on-campus stadium. “It’s a bummer we can’t have all the students in here making a bunch of noise, but it’s awesome to have family here and play in this beautiful, perfect stadium.

“It was a perfect way to break it in.”

Hill was responsible for the first touchdown in the renovated stadium, and it didn’t come from his cannon right arm. He used his deft ball-handling skills and his legs. Hill executed a terrific fake to running back Koa Herrera before rolling to his left, taking off for a 34-yard run at the 9:48 mark of the first quarter.

Miguel Unzueta of Santa Barbara hauls in a pass as he gets hit by a Hueneme defender.

Miguel Unzueta of Santa Barbara hauls in a pass as he gets hit by a Hueneme defender. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

He got a great kick-out block from receiver Anthony Loza.

“He just picked up the cornerback, and it was perfect,” Hill said.

The play was reminiscent of his runs during Santa Barbara’s journey to the CIF-SS Division 8 final in 2019.

“It was definitely similar, but it was different because it was in the home stadium,” he said.

The Wisconsin-bound Hill rushed for 63 yards on eight carries and completed 12 of 24 passes for 124 yards.

The Dons showed more variety on offense. Young running backs Nathan Barrios and Koa Herrera did a nice job reading their blocks and picking up good yardage to keep the Hueneme defense off balance.

“Running the ball is tough when you haven’t touched a weight,” Santa Barbara coach JT Stone said, referring to the state COVID-19 restrictions during the offseason that prohibited working out in gyms. “We haven’t touched a weight since last January, so trying to get that done has been difficult. But the kids took it upon themselves last week that we got to get better, because they know we got to run the ball. I was proud we got it done.”

Justin Barrios

Sophomore running back Justin Barrios helps the Dons have a productive ground game. (Isaiah Valenzuela photo)

On the defensive side for Santa Barbara, nose guard Noach Wood and linebackers Justin Perez and David Ramirez put pressure on Hueneme’s shifty quarterback Ethan Neos. He took a hit from Perez on a scramble late in the second quarter and left the game with an injury.

“The defense stepped up and did well,” Stone said. “Justin Perez is a monster. You talk about the seniors that play with passion; he’s taken it upon himself to really come out and have fun and take it for what it’s worth. I’m really happy he’s enjoying himself and playing his butt off right now. He’s playing lights-out football.”

Stan Espinosa replaced Neos at quarterback for Hueneme, and his second pass attempt was tipped by a Santa Barbara defender and junior defensive back Anthony Lopez intercepted. 

Lopez quickly took off and ran 58 yards for the first interception return for a touchdown in the new stadium as time ran out in the second quarter. Montgomery kicked the PAT for a 21-0 lead.

Montgomery earlier gave the Dons a 14-0 lead on an 8-yard run on the second play of the second quarter, capping an 80-yard, 11-play drive.

Lopez intercepted a second pass at the 2-yard line in the third quarter and appeared headed for another touchdown return, but he stepped out of bounds at the Santa Barbara 38.

Deacon Hill

Quarterback Deacon Hill takes off on a 34-yard touchdown run for the first score at the renovated Peabody Stadium. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Hill guided the Dons the rest of the way and finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 27-0 lead at 9:15 of the fourth quarter. He had one brilliant pass on the drive, threading the ball between three Hueneme defenders and into the hands of Loza for an 18-yard gain.

A 51-yard kickoff return by Manuel Ortiz set up Hueneme for its first touchdown. Running back Justin Barreto scored it on a 1-yard run at the 7:04 mark.

Santa Barbara answered on a spectacular play by Hill. He sidestepped an unblocked Hueneme rusher, rolled to his left and fired a 25-yard strike to Robert Boyton for the touchdown. Montgomery’s kick made it 35-6.

“Everything was clicking tonight,” Hill said. “Coach Stone did a great job with the play calling, and I did a better job of making sure everybody knew what they had to do and making sure everyone was lined up correctly. That’s something I didn’t do well last game (a 49-28 loss to Santa Ynez). Coach Stone gave me a D performance grade, and I agreed with it. He’s coaching me at a D1 level, and if I did that at a D1 level I wouldn’t play.

“This week it was a lot better.”

Santa Barbara officials scrambled to put the game on as original opponent Cabrillo was unable to play on Friday because of a COVID-19 issue. Hueneme was supposed to play at Carpinteria on Thursday, but Carpinteria had a positive COVID-19 test and had to cancel.

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

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