In a see-saw game between conference leaders, Santa Barbara City College made the last scores and stops, pulling out a 39-25 win at Antelope Valley Saturday for the Vaqueros’ seventh consecutive win.
Fittingly, it was SBCC star running back Brandon Smith who put the icing on the cake, but with a reception instead of a rush. With 4:11 left, quarterback Alex Johnson faked a handoff on a perfect misdirection play and found Smith open for a 32-yard scoring strike.
That accounted for the 39-25 final score after Marko Jovisic’s extra point, and after the Vaquero defense held in a three-minute, 13-play Marauder drive that netted them just 26 yards and nothing else.
“Credit to all three phases,” SBCC coach Craig Moropoulos said, in what has become a mantra for him: equal dedication to excellence in offense, defense and special teams.
And backup players who can step up, such as Jovisic, who stepped in for kicker Joe Bowman, who re-injured a pulled quad nailing a 42-yard field goal in the second quarter. Bowman also kept his perfect streak of 47 extra points intact on three conversions.
SBCC improves to 3-0 in American Pacific League play, and Antelope Valley falls to 2-1. The Vaqueros come back home next Saturday to face another APL co-leader: Moorpark, which is also 3-0 after beating L.A. Valley Saturday night.
Meanwhile, this win is sweet, tying a record for team consecutive victories, and beating the defending league champion Antelope Valley.
“They’re the top dog,” Moropoulos said of Antelope Valley. “They won the conference the last two or three years in a row, so I told our guys, ‘if you want to be the top dog, you gotta go beat the top dog.’ And they did that today.”
This was a game of scoring streaks. Antelope Valley opened scoring on a 14-yard pass from Marauder quarterback Daryus Warren to Shamir Washington to cap an 11-play drive with 5:38 to play in the first quarter.
From there, SBCC went on a 24-0 run with the kind of first-half momentum the team has featured in several games this season. That started with a 10-yard rushing touchdown by Smith, after a seven-play, 75-yard drive with 2:06 left in the first quarter.
And that was followed 8 seconds later by a defensive score when sophomore linebacker Tyler Haughney pounced on a ball in the end zone after Antelope Valley running back Que Allen dropped a backward pass from Warren that rolled toward the end zone. The play was set up by Vaquero kickoff coverage that had the Marauders starting on their own 14.
That gave SBCC a 14-7 lead after one quarter.
In the second quarter, Smith scored again, on a 2-yard run capping a 50-yard drive, and a few minutes later Bowman hit his 42-yard field goal. That put the Vaqueros up 24-7 with 7:38 to go in the half.
The Marauders would answer with an 18-0 swing of their own. That started with two TD passes from Warren, of 56 yards to Washington and 51 yards to Reece Robinson. Conversation attempts failed, and SBCC clung to a 24-19 halftime lead.
Antelope Valley then scored with a 69-yard run by Amir Bankhead early in the third quarter. A conversion kick again failed, and the Marauders had a narrow 25-24 lead.
The Vaqueros needed a spark, and special teams provided it: with 4:09 left in the third, SBCC freshman Kayden Chan ran back a 50-yard punt return for a score. Smith followed with a 2-point conversation to give the team a 32-25 lead.
“When we got down 25-24, we were really searching for something, and that punt return by Kayden Chan really, really flipped the momentum,” Moropolous said.
From there, the defense bent but didn’t break, and in the fourth quarter Johnson led a drive in which he completed passes to Jackson Meehan for 20 yards and BJ Phillips for 10, until the strike to Smith for the final score.
“When Brandon Smith has the ball in his hands, he’s pretty special,” Moropoulos said. “Alex did a nice job on the fake, and got (Smith) the ball. It’s a misdirection play and the rest is history — he got in the end zone.”
Johnson finished 10 for 21 for 135 yards, a touchdown and interception, and Smith rushed 21 times for 69 yards, a 3.3 average, and two rushing TDs, the 2-point conversion, and two catches for 40 yards and a TD.
Smith didn’t get one of his 100-yard days, but he could be counted on to bull out the short 3rd-down plays to keep drives alive. Antelope Valley had an advantage in total rushing yards, and a 451-295 advantage in total yards. But SBCC got more of the ones that counted.
Marauder Warren had bigger numbers at QB than Johnson, with 256 yards on 18-of-37, with 4 TDs and no interceptions. But Moropoulos said he would take Johnson “any day.” The coach lauds Johnson’s ability to make reads and adjustments at the line.
“Alex does so much cerebrally beyond what he does throwing the ball or running,” Moropoulos said. “He does a great job for us. I feel very lucky to have him on our side.”
And many others who stepped up.
“Credit to all three phases. We lost some guys, we had (Bishop Diego alum) Jordan Tagaloa go down, one of our best linemen; we had our kicker go down, pulled a quad. And we had already lost one of our best offensive linemen.
“So we kind of weathered the storm a little bit and that’s a credit to our guys. So they did a really good job of bending and not breaking and then hanging on at the end.”
Two more regular season games to go, Moorpark at La Playa Stadium next Saturday and then Santa Monica on the road.
“We’ve got a tough team next week in Moorpark, but we feel good about having them at home,” Moropoulos said. “We’re excited about every week, week to week.”