The four meetings between the Santa Barbara High and Ventura football teams could be dubbed the Drama Bowl, as the Dons won each game by eight points or less.
The tension was back Friday night at Peabody Stadium. Clinging to a seven-point lead, Santa Barbara came up with two huge defensive plays in the last 4:45 and held off the Cougars for a 29-22 victory in Drama Bowl 5.
Santa Barbara pulled even with Ventura in the standings at 2-1 and improved to 4-1 overall. The Cougars had a three-game winning streak snapped and fell to 3-2.
Ventura was driving for a potential tying touchdown when, on fourth and 2 from the 25, Santa Barbara linebacker Nathan Barrios shot low and tackled Cougars’ running back Dylan Garcia for a 1-yard gain.
Ventura got the ball back after Santa Barbara went three and out.
Quarterback Joey Reynoso completed passes of 12 and 11 yards, moving the ball to the Santa Barbara 30. On the next play, cornerback Jacob Nevarez intercepted a Reynoso pass as there was a miscommunication between the quarterback and his intended receiver.
Santa Barbara ran out the clock on four power runs for 28 yards by quarterback Abel Renteria and a kneel down.
Renteria threw for two touchdowns and ran for one, and running back Koa Herrera had a sensational 31-yard run for a score. Kicker Jeffery Lechuga kicked three extra points and the Dons converted a two-point conversion a pass from Kai Mault to Rork Norton.
But it was the defense that came through in crunch time for Santa Barbara.
“Our defense, I feel, all year has been phenomenal,” said linebacker Julian Castro, who pressured Reynoso with blitzes and helped shut down the Cougars’ running game. “Last year we weren’t so great because it was a new system. Now, we’re all getting it and everyone’s coming downhill making tackles.
“Our team has been just clicking on defense, so far.”
On the huge fourth-and-2 play, Castro said the defense knew what was coming and made the stop.
“We’re tired of giving those up,” he said of fourth-down plays. “Last year we gave five fourth downs against Pacifica which pretty much lost the game. So our goal over the offseason was to fix that. We saw (the play) and we made it happen.”
Santa Barbara coach J.T. Stone was thrilled by the play of the defense, especially the fourth quarter.
“They were lights out,” he said. “We told them all week that Ventura will execute and they did. But our defense is relentless. My defensive coordinators do such a great job of getting our athletes into the right spot, and we apply pressure. We created a couple of turnovers, so I’m happy with the way we played defense.
“We scored enough, but I’m a firm believer in defense wins championships, and I’m just glad to get out of here.”
Santa Barbara’s last five games against Ventura have been thrillers, and Stone is glad the Dons were able to pull through again.
“This is the one game, the ugly game, every year this is the one,” he said. “If I’ve ever been glad that a game is over, I’m glad this one is over.
“If we lose, this changes a lot for us. Our goal is still to try and win a league championship. I don’t mind playing Pacifica; it’s Ventura, and I’m just glad we don’t see them, and I hope we don’t see them anymore.”
The defense got Santa Barbara off to a good start against the Cougars as Sammy Perez recovered a fumble at the Dons’ 42.
Santa Barbara cashed in on the turnover as Koa Herrera took a handoff, made two terrific cuts and bolted 31 yards for a touchdown. Lechuga kicked the PAT for 7-0 lead at 7:23 of the first quarter.
Ventura struck back as Reynoso hit Joseph Pena on a 63-yard pass to the Santa Barbara 1.
The Dons’ defense stuffed the Cougars on three running plays. After a timeout, Reynoso found running back Esteban de Santiago on a 2-yard touchdown pass. Donovan Chappell’s PAT tied the score at the 4:39 mark.
The Cougars took a 14-7 lead on a 16-yard pass from Reynoso to Makana Arndt. That pair combined on 10 pass plays for 126 yards and two scores.
Overall, Reynoso completed 19 of 26 passes for 244 yards, with one interception.
After barely missing receivers on some long passes, Renteria found Jack Holdren along the sideline, and the 6-foot-3 receiver broke a tackle and sprinted into the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown play.
The Dons converted a 2-point conversion, with Kai Mault taking the snap and passing to Rork Norton for a 15-14 lead at 5:41 of the second quarter.
Ventura threatened to score at the end of the second quarter following a Santa Barbara fumble. But the Cougars ran out of time.
Santa Barbara forced a three and out on Ventura’s first possession of the second half, and the Dons’ offense struck quickly.
On second and 9, Renteria hit Mault along the right sideline and the sophomore turned on the jets and raced diagonally across the field and into the end zone to complete a 54-yard touchdown play. Lechuga’s PAT kick gave Santa Barbara a 22-14 lead.
The play brought a huge relief to the Dons as Mault left the game in the first quarter after taking a big hit.
Santa Barbara’s defense set up the fourth touchdown as Murphy Cisneros sacked Reynoso on a blitz on second down and Lechuga dropped running back Sawyer Cline for a 2-yard loss on third down.
Santa Barbara took over at its 47 and five plays later Renteria ran 12 yards for a touchdown and a 29-14 lead at 4:55 of the third quarter.
But the drama was just beginning. Ventura’s Gavin Calderon recovered a fumble and Reynoso guided the Cougars 74-yards in nine plays. He passed 33 yards to Arndt for the touchdown.
The Cougars went for two, and Reynoso rolled right and passed back to a wide-open Bronson Thorpe. That made it seven-point game, 29-22.
But like it had in the previous four meetings, Santa Barbara survived the drama and hung on for the victory.
“I told the kids it wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take the W,” Stone said. “Ventura is really good. They could easily finish out and do well.
“For us, we’re just happy to get out of this.”